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Freezing for a cause

Matt Miklavic | Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Some come to Notre Dame for the academics, some come for the sports and some for the community. Farther down the list of attributes, nestled somewhere between parietals and “the diversity,” is the weather. With second semester comes January and its array of arctic temperatures. While initially entertaining, it soon becomes old as the memory of the snowball fight fades and you’re faced with yet another day of sobbing quietly on your trek to DeBartolo Hall, praying your tears don’t freeze before your arrival. As the single-digit degree temperature days continue, some will stay tucked warmly in their dorms while others will brave the epic journey to their classrooms. Inevitably, the dorm idiot will leave in a t-shirt and return with pneumonia. These are the grave challenges the Irish bear as they courageously venture outdoors in pursuit of an education and/or night at Fever.
For many, however, there is no respite from the cold. There is no heated dorm or warm coat. Indeed, there is no place to call home. For tens of thousands of people, each night is a challenge in its own right. Homelessness affects people from coast-to-coast, from South Beach to South Bend. For those afflicted in the North, the harsh climate of winter poses specific and perilous challenges. In times of extreme cold, these trials become lethal.
In the heart of the wealthiest nation on earth, there will be some who go without shelter during the dead of Indiana’s frosty winter. In a given year, over 1.5 million Americans will find themselves homeless for some length of time. Ten percent of these will be veterans; over one-fifth will be children. Often the cause is a death, an unstable family situation, a sudden financial turn or an unforeseeable emergency. It takes a relatively small amount of assistance to help them back on their feet. For others who experience chronic homelessness, the path to self-sufficiency can be a more arduous process. Of the chronic homeless population, approximately 30 percent suffer from mental health conditions, while even more find themselves battling issues of substance abuse. By any statistic, homelessness is both a tragic occurrence and a daunting challenge.
Challenges, however, can be met. Locally, the South Bend Center for the Homeless spearheads the effort to fight this societal disease. Since its inception in Dec.1988, the Center has worked to combat homelessness in South Bend and throughout St. Joseph County. By seeking to reach beyond the topical effects and into the issue’s fundamental causes, the Center looks to fight homelessness in a comprehensive manner. Through an array of initiatives and community support, the Center works to both meet the immediate needs of its clients while working to put them on a path to self-sufficiency and break the cycle of homelessness.
Beginning in Feb. 2007, Siegfried Hall has worked to help make the Center’s mission a reality. Through its annual Day of Man, the men of Siegfried raise funds to help South Bend’s homeless. One February day a year, the resident ‘Ramblers’ of Siegfried don nothing more than a t-shirt, shorts and sandals in a display of solidarity with those who face the cold on a daily basis. The event inevitably draws a few comments criticizing its perception of masculinity and helping the homeless as “discriminatory” (2011) or “exalt[ing] restrictive, gender essentialist ideas” (2012). To junior Johnny Dang, one of the event’s commissioners, these critiques miss the point. “We want to raise awareness. It’s not about gender stereotypes,” Dang said. While some may argue with the testosterone-laced format of the fundraising, few can quarrel with its results. Since 2007, Siegfried has managed to raise tens of thousands of dollars to aid those most in need.
Next Wednesday, Siegfried will once again take to the sidewalks, buildings and classrooms of Notre Dame for the seventh annual Day of Man. We invite you to join the pink-outfitted men of Siegfried in supporting the South Bend Center for the Homeless. Whether a few cents or a few dollars, your donations will make a marked impact on the lives of those in our very own community. Homelessness will not vanish today, tomorrow or perhaps ever. Its reduction, however, must start somewhere.
Matt Miklavic is a sophomore studying political science and business from Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  He can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.