All posts by Coral Ciupak

Community responds to rising homelessness levels

Local church that collaborates with community breakfast program house aids to alleviate the challenges of poverty

Maggie Dougherty

News Editor

As busy students with deadlines and club activities consuming our time, it is easy to forget that we are part of a larger community. Moreover, lack of information about and interaction with local Wooster residents engenders antagonistic feelings that pit students against so-called “townies.” With homelessness and poverty on the rise in Wayne County, it is essential that students recognize the humanity of locals and make an effort to understand the challenges they face. 

Community leader Kevan Franklin, the senior pastor at the Wooster Trinity United Church of Christ (Trinity UCC), is one of those most familiar with the poverty issues currently faced by Wayne County residents. Rev. Franklin oversees the community breakfast program, partnering with the College’s Community Breakfast Program (CBP) House to serve free food every weekday morning.

“The breakfast has been served since 1995 and was started by some public school employees who were concerned about students receiving a hot, nutritious meal in the summer months. They quickly learned that the need was greater than they initially thought,” said Franklin. When Franklin first came to Trinity in 2004, they served around 30 community members per day. Last year, the program served an average of 75 people every morning. However, Franklin sees the benefits of the breakfast program as extending far beyond the food itself.

“I emphasize with everyone associated with the program to look at this as creating [a] caring community and not just a free meal program. The community and care that we share here is more important than the food,” he said. 

And for Franklin, taking care of the community goes beyond providing people with a hot meal and kind words. He works actively to help the breakfast guests locate and access a range of services, often to meet needs that students never have to consider. While access to social services such as mental health resources and drug treatment is a key issue for breakfast guests, students who are new to the breakfast program are often struck more by the little things. For example, the volunteers at the breakfast program must take care not to let the toast become too hard because then many of the guests won’t be able to eat it — the poor state of their dental health prevents them from eating crunchy foods without pain. There are, of course, weightier problems to face than toast. 

“I visited an elderly man who had told me that he was in the hospital with pneumonia and he said that he was feeling better, but it was hard to sleep on a wooden floor,” recounted Franklin. “I went to his apartment and I was shocked to find that the hospital had released him early to an apartment that [had] nothing more than a bath towel on the hardwood floor for him to sleep on.” 

After that, Franklin began asking community members to donate furniture, especially beds. He explained that it is not only a public health issue, but that people have trouble staying awake at work when they can’t sleep through the night. Another challenge currently facing the Wooster breakfast community is in theory simple, but in practice monumental: access to laundry services. 

“A large laundry facility at the south end of Wooster closed down a couple of years ago. Churches used to be able to purchase laundry cards for people to use there. After the laundry closed, the nearest place to clean clothes is north of the college campus and many people on the south end of town cannot haul their laundry that far or pay the higher prices,” explained Franklin. Instead of washing their clothes, people have begun resorting to simply rewearing them until they are worn out and have to be thrown away. Franklin described this practice of “disposable clothes” as expensive, dispiriting, and environmentally harmful.

 Of course, more than anything else, the most pressing need for most people is simply an affordable place to stay. Franklin stated that this outcome stems from both city policies and community response. 

“Builders don’t have an incentive for building smaller, functional houses [and] neighborhoods don’t want affordable housing because they don’t want their property values to decline and are afraid of [perceived] crime in low income places,” he explained. He continued detailing the loss of affordable housing due to city policies, saying: 

“They wiped out a tent city a few years ago, which functioned as a kind of overflow place for people to at least sleep in a tent. We also lost a 40 trailer park on Larwill where many of our breakfast friends lived. These people were promised vouchers and shelters, but eventually they all had to pay more for other accommodations and some have ended up on the street.” 

As much as Franklin works to provide people with compassionate care, those who have homes in Wayne County are not always as understanding about the challenges faced by those struggling with poverty. Franklin listed some of the many misconceptions community members hold about homeless people living in Wooster, including that they are not from Wooster, that they are dangerous, that they want to be homeless or deserve to be homeless because of mistakes they’ve made, and that they should just go to a shelter. 

“This is a common response from people in Wooster,” said Franklin. “They don’t understand the mission or the practices of the Salvation Army, which is the only true homeless shelter here. They only have thirty beds for one thing. For another thing, there are many reasons why people are not allowed to stay there.” So when community members complain with frustration about the “threat” of people sleeping on Trinity’s steps, they don’t realize that shelters often have 90 day stay maximums, if you can even get a spot in the first place. 

Just like the greater Wooster community, College of Wooster students don’t always do the best job being sympathetic to those in need in Wayne County. Ella Lang ’21 lives in the CBP house and described a conversation she had during breakfast a few weeks ago with a woman named Dana. Having explained that she was very lonely after her husband and one of her sons passed away in the past few years, Dana told Lang a story about an interaction she had with a College of Wooster student. 

“She was walking down the street and she asked a College student for the time,” Lang recounted. “And they said, ‘that’s your own problem.’ And she was very offended by that, understandably, because that is a very rude response. And in light of the conversation about loneliness, it seemed like a moment where she was attempting to connect with somebody during her day, and that wasn’t reciprocated,” said Lang. “You know,” she continued, “we often are intimidated or scared by people from the town, but they also don’t feel comfortable with college students or necessarily feel like college students care about them. And so in order for relations to become better and healthier between the College of Wooster and the City of Wooster, I think it’s incredibly important for students to play their part in creating a safe and welcoming community. And one of the easiest ways you can do that is by simply saying hello to your neighbors who live just down the street from you and giving the time of day to an elderly woman who asks and never thinking that there isn’t enough time to say hi, because I think those small interactions really go a long way.”

When asked what he felt students could do when interacting with members of the community, Franklin seconded Lang’s sentiments. 

“I always encourage people to ask a lot of questions. Learn people’s names. A name is important. Be involved and informed about what is happening at each level of government.” He concluded, “We could have so much and we settle for so little.” 

(Photo from Facebook)

Scotlight: Tonya Besancon

Tonya Besancon, a staff member at the College, talks about working in the new Knowlton Café, her hobbies, her family and what it is like to live on a farm.

Where are you from?

We live on a dairy farm on the Back Orrville Road.

How long have you been working at the college?

18 years.

What has it been like to start working at Knowlton Café this year?

I love it! It’s so — the atmosphere is amazing. It’s got all the lighting and all the students, I just love it. It’s really nice here.

What are some of your favorite hobbies or ways to relax?

Spending time with my grandchildren, spending time with my kids and cooking. That’s about it!

What do you like to cook?

Italian food.

Are you Italian?

I’ve got Italian in me, so, we like to make homemade spaghetti and lasagna.

What’s it like to live on a dairy farm?

Busy, very busy. My two sons, they’re 33 and 32, they help run the dairy farm, and it’s a 24 hour a day job. Yeah, there’s always something going on. We milk three times, around the clock. It’s wonderful, it is.

How long have you lived there?

Probably 16 years. We had a gentleman’s farm in Ashland for 11 years, and then we bought the dairy farm.

What’s a gentleman’s farm?

Just grain farming, and it just was real pretty. It wasn’t the milking aspect, so it was a little different.

Did you grow up on farms?

I did not, I grew up in town! Right by the park in Marshallville, and I married my husband, who grew up on a farm, born and raised, and so that was his way of life. I changed. It was a change, a big change.

And did you think it was a positive change, did you like it?

At first I was a little lonely back on the farm. You know because I was used to people around all the time, and walking down to the park. But after I started having babies, it was so quiet and peaceful, I got used to it.

Interview by Zoe Covey, a Features Editor for the Voice (Photo courtesy Blair Besancon).

Multicultural groups express concerns about support at C.O.W.

Desi LaPoole

Features Editor

The College of Wooster’s multicultural organizations for some students are part of what makes the experience at the College so memorable. For racial and ethnic minorities and international students, these organizations can provide a safe space where not only members can be with others like them, but also provide opportunities for those not part of the organization to learn about new cultures and experiences.

However, despite the work that these organizations do for members and the larger community, some organizations face struggles and setbacks that stem from systems of the College. In the past years, multicultural organizations have had issues with communicating with the administration and other departments on campus, which, in an extreme case a few years ago, almost dissolved the African Student Union (ASU).

This lack of communication and support is the reason why multicultural organizations were a main focus in last semester’s Galpin Call-in, the student body’s response to racism and the apparent lack of administrative action against racism and support of marginalized groups on campus. The administration agreed upon many of the demands student organizers created, including demand 17 of Section V which states, “All groups representing people of color should have a provided space for their own private use for the purpose of better serving their targeted community.” 

For the ASU and the Organization of Latin American Student (OLAS), formerly known as Proyecto Latino, this demand manifested in the form of their own program houses. Cornelius Gyamfi ’19, the president of the ASU, explained the excitement he and members of the ASU felt when they learned they were receiving Troyer House as a program house for this school year. “Meetings could be held, memories could be shared and ASU felt like we gained solid recognition on-campus that would enable minority students, ASU members or not, to feel like they had a safe place on campus,” he said.

“Since we received the house, we have been able to more comfortably hold meetings and have events. A house is something that the organization really needed, and because of it, I feel that the Latinx community has become stronger,” Jorge De Leon ’20, co-president of OLAS said on receiving Avery House this year.

However, despite the accomplishments that came from the Call-in, some leaders of these multicultural organizations still feel as if their voices are not being heard.

As with other houses on campus, the residents of both Avery and Troyer houses have dealt with structural problems with what is supposed to be their safe spaces. Avery House has required repairs on a door, windows and stairs. Additionally, the size of the house is a concern to members as well. “The house is a very tight fit, and I am concerned that we will not have the space for culture sharing events open to all students,” De Leon said.

The most notable issue in program housing this semester has been Troyer House flooding due to a leak. According to residents of the house, there have been multiple problems with Troyer that were brought to the attention of Residence Life prior to the flooding. For Christian Betre, former president of the ASU, this was disheartening. “What happened recently with our house is really one of the things that makes me think do they really care about us on this campus? We gave [Residence Life] awareness about what was happening before the summer … and nothing happened over the summer, so during the school year we went several times. Nothing happened again, and once a huge thing happened, that’s when they started to actually pay attention to us.”

The concerns multicultural organizations have are not exclusive to housing. A lack of interest and support from other departments on campus is another primary concern of multicultural organizations.

“I definitely feel like the Budgeting Committee and Student Activities aren’t really concerned about BWO [Black Women’s Organization] so I feel like they can be more active in reaching out especially when it concerns them doing activities for multicultural organizations,” said Chrissy Howard Smith ’20, co-president of the Black Women’s Organization.

Recently, there has been a push to further support and engage with the College’s multicultural organizations. The Multicultural Coalition is a new effort to connect multiple student organizations, particularly those that cater to minority and international students and facilitate relations between groups. “This is important because many multicultural organizations have similar goals and this coalition helps them recognize that they can work together to put on amazing events for the Wooster community,” said Korri Palmer ’20, a student who assisted in the development of the Multicultural Coalition.

The Campus Council (CC) is also making strides to improve the situations student organizations may find themselves in. Betre, who is also the International Representative of CC, said, “I know me and Robert [Dinkins ’19] and Stachal [Harris ’20] are trying to find ways to support and be a voice for multicultural organizations, so we do have the Multicultural Coalition to see if they have ways they can support one another and just have that chain of support. So we have that in place where we would also relay that information to Campus Council.”

She went on to say that the administration might not always consider the diversity within the community of people of color on campus, with many students having differences in their upbringing, culture and social levels. “I feel like there isn’t that much of a distinction there. Like, they know that it’s there, but they don’t know how to provide resources to accommodate those students. So we [CC] try our best to relay — as the group of student representatives we try to be honest when we relay — and try to get real problems out on the table to so they can help us brainstorm and come up with different solutions to those problems to a certain extent,” she said.

The student leaders provided ways that the College can make positive changes in order to support their organizations better. One primary way is through more departmental involvement in the organizations outside of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), which was consistently cited as the primary if not the only source of support for multicultural organizations. This could look like alerting the leadership of these organizations about resources they can use to better plan and facilitate events they host throughout the year.

Additionally, some argued that the College could diversify their staff to help with communication issues. Howard Smith said, “I think the best thing they can do is hiring a person of color into Student Activities in order to give our perspective on things … so we won’t just have to go to [the] CDI to avoid the hassle and everything.”