By Rebecca Juntunen
You don’t have to walk too far in Pensacola to find a homeless man or woman standing on the roadside. It isn’t uncommon, either, to see them huddled on park benches or sleeping in other temporary shelters around the city.
Pensacola State College’s AmeriCorps VISTA program is taking strides to change this wretched reality.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a service program designed to help eliminate poverty in America. PSC’s branch of the program, headed by Michael Listau, provides volunteer opportunities to the students and staff at the college.
Their most recent volunteer opportunity was a blanket drive held at PSC. From February 12th to February 19th the student volunteer council and AmeriCorps program members gathered donations of blankets in the main campus student center, building 5, to be distributed to the homeless.
But why the sudden blanket drive?
Until just recently, Pensacola banned homeless individuals from sleeping with blankets. According to the Pensacola News Journal, with the ban came laws making it illegal for the homeless to ask for money, wash and shave in public restrooms, or relieve themselves on public property.
However, a Pensacola City Council meeting recently repealed the decision, by unanimous vote. In order to become a law, the proposal still had to be passed in a second reading, which was discussed later in the month of February.
On Thursday, Feb. 27, the court gave the final approval to repeal the blanket ban in the city of Pensacola, but decided to wait another eight months before making a decision on the related restroom law that prohibits homeless men and women from grooming themselves in public restrooms.
Pensacola Mayor, Ashton Hayward, showed his support by sponsoring PSC’s week long blanket drive, in partnership with AmeriCorps VISTA.
Listau confirmed that they “were able to collect a number of blankets in a rather quick amount of time.”
The mayor’s office had the blankets collected and dropped off at the City Hall Office and then were distributed to local shelters in the area.
Listau described his reason for pursuing ways to help the homeless: “Pensacola really is an impoverished area and there are a lot of opportunities to help those in need. When I first relocated here, someone described Pensacola as being ‘a Rolls Royce with a Honda Engine.’ On the outside people are attracted to all the great tourist events and destinations, but once you start pealing back the layers, the problems of homelessness and poverty becomes very apparent.”
For students who care about helping the homeless, Listau advised, “Become involved in the community!”
One channel of community involvement is PSC’s student volunteer council, which hosts service projects such as building houses with Habitat for Humanity, sorting food at local food banks and cleaning up beaches.
“My role at the college is to organize volunteer events and I really do have something for everyone.” Listau described. “I also encourage students to contact me if they should have any ideas of their own.”
To learn more about AmeriCorps VISTA, to get involved in PSC service projects, or to submit an idea for a volunteer opportunity, contact Michael Listau at firstname.lastname@example.org