By Harris Blum, for the Mitzpeh, @Harris_Blum

Hillel Social Justice Fellow Jonny Berger introduces guest speaker David Pirtle.
Hillel Social Justice Fellow Jonny Berger introduces guest speaker David Pirtle. Harris Blum/Mitzpeh

Two of Maryland Hillel’s social justice fellows hosted a speaker from the National Coalition for the Homeless on April 20.

David Pirtle, speaker for the National Coalition for the Homeless, took the floor in Hillel’s library in order to inform students of the problems surrounding the issue of homelessness, and their potential solutions.

Jonny Berger, a junior communications major, and Liat Hotz, a junior psychology and Jewish studies major,  orchestrated the event at Hillel.

“We are bringing [Pirtle] out to promote advocacy for the homeless in D.C. and how we can make a difference,” Berger said before the event.

Pirtle managed a restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, when he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a complication that would cause him to lose his job and his home. Schizoaffective disorder is a term used for someone who experiences a mood disorder, such as depression, and schizophrenia. This combination made managing a restaurant too difficult for Pirtle.

After losing his job, Pirtle hitchhiked across the country experiencing almost a year of homelessness, before landing in Washington where he joined the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“If you added up all of the murders in the last 15 years that we recognize as hate crimes … almost three times as many people have been murdered in biased base attacks against people who are homeless,” Pirtle said. He cited several instances in which homeless people have been abused, including a woman whose blankets were set on fire in the middle of a park.

Because of instances like these, Berger and Hotz embarked on a yearlong mission to raise awareness and support people who endure homelessness, as seen in the sock drive they coordinated earlier this year on campus, which collected over 500 pairs of socks for homeless people.

Amitai Samuels, a sophomore psychology major, attended the lecture, which he said benefited his knowledge of homelessness.

“We don’t usually learn that people who are homeless are stereotyped against, but that was really enlightening to me,” Samuels said.

The hate crimes perpetuated by this stereotype are extremely prevalent. Between 1999 and 2010 there have been 1,184 acts of violence committed by housed individuals against homeless individuals, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. These acts of violence resulted in 312 deaths.

Berger hopes that this event can show  fellow classmates how to react when they see a person who is homeless.

“Seeing these speakers, I have formulated a new opinion on how they [homeless individuals] live,” Berger said. “I just want other people to think about how [they] are thinking and feeling.


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