A local homeless shelter has issued a humane offer to a group of local college students after a photo of them dressed as people experiencing homelessness went viral, with many condemning the costumes as racist and generally insensitive.
This girl dressed up as a struggling & homeless IMMIGRANT MOTHER for a HALLOWEEN COSTUME. And her friends went as various other homeless people. All the comments are people thinking this is so funny and clever. What the actual fuck, @NAU come get your students. pic.twitter.com/2u2G2ORyqY— KT (@groovyk8) October 29, 2019
The photo featured five students in these costumes with signs sporting messages such as “Hungry college dropout” and “Immigrant mother of 10—anything helps!”
In response, the nearby Flagstaff Shelter Services, Inc, offered to help educate the students on the realities of homelessness.
After working at Flagstaff Shelter Services for the past five years and in the field for over 20 years, I have learned...Posted by Flagstaff Shelter Services, Inc on Monday, November 4, 2019
The Facebook message, signed by Executive Director Ross Altenbaugh, addresses the stigma faced by homeless individuals and how it makes their lives even more difficult.
“After working at Flagstaff Shelter Services for the past five years and in the field for over 20 years, I have learned many well-meaning people just do not understand what it’s like to have nothing or nowhere to go,” he wrote. “Misconceptions like ‘they are lazy’ or ‘they just don’t want to work’ surround people experiencing homelessness. While I can’t say all the reasons why someone might have to sleep outside in the freezing cold, I do know very few choose that life.”
Breaking: An NAU freshman’s Halloween Instagram post is sparking nationwide outrage. I interviewed Katie Stiff, whose tweet condemning the costumes took the post viral. https://t.co/BlBQziOFxl— Ali Swenson (@AliSwenson) October 31, 2019
Rather than condemning the students who dressed as people experiencing homelessness, Altenbaugh recognized that not everybody understands what these individuals have gone through and invited them to come learn.
“So instead of shaming these kids, I want to personally invite each of them to come volunteer at Flagstaff Shelter Services,” said Altenbaugh. “Meet the people we serve, and look in their eyes. Come see the humanity that exists here every day, and be part of it. Please come be part of the solution, we can show you how.”
The responses to the post have been largely positive, with people expressing admiration for Altenbaugh and his compassionate offer.
Northern Arizona University says that the Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Engagement and Inclusive Excellence sat down with the students in the photo to discuss what happened and that the five of them apologized.
“The students recognized the seriousness of their actions and apologized. NAU values and supports free speech. However, speech that is demeaning to others does not represent our values,” the university said in a statement.