“It’s their fault they’re homeless. If you give them money, they’ll just use it for drugs. There’s no point in helping them because they won’t help themselves at the end of the day.” These are only a few of the negative stigmas about the homeless the service-based student organization “Encounter at LSU” is trying to change for the better.
Encounter’s mission is to raise awareness for the homeless in Louisiana through outreach, education and service in the community. The name “Encounter” was specifically chosen in order to spread the organization to other campuses.
Although the organization has only been around for two and a half years, it has about 60 members who participate in service projects for the homeless. "Encounter" encourages students, whether they are full-time and/or active at the University, to join the Baton Rouge community and serve the homeless community, engaging in various projects, such as serving meals and creating resumes for and with the homeless.
Biochemistry junior Austin Primeaux currently serves as treasurer of "Encounter," but he is in the process of being inducted as president.
"Encounter" also offers a book club for members, reading books that educate them about homelessness.
"Encounter’s" book club has been thriving for the past two semesters, reading “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond and “Invisible Thread” by Alex Tresniowski and Laura Schroff. Although one book is more anecdotal and another is more researched based to destigmatize the homeless, they’re both valuable for members because it’s difficult to put a face on statistics, Primeaux said.
"Encounter" recently partnered with the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit organization started after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild homes. Members make bag lunches for the homeless during their monthly meetings.
Primeaux said the organization is based around actually encountering and reaching out to the community, with most service projects off campus.
Last weekend, "Encounter" members participated in the Garden Beautification Project with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless (CAAH), helping to plant vegetables and upkeep in Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s garden. The homeless will continue tending to the garden, harvesting some of the plants to use in the St. Vincent de Paul’s kitchen.
The organization also serves residents at Society of St. Vincent de Paul by eating with them and learning about their lives.
“A lot of [the homeless] came to LSU [as former students], took our classes here and were in our shoes,” Primeaux said. “I think that helps you erase some of the stigmas.”
"Encounter" members also work with the CAAH, helping residents create resumes as well as familiarizing them with technology.
"Encounter" members serve lunch to the homeless twice a semester on Sunday afternoons at Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Primeaux said this service is interesting because a lot of people who aren’t homeless tend to join their family members for lunch after church.
“In my community, Mom cooks a big meal,” Primeaux said. “But some people are dependent on shelters for their Sunday dinners so that impacted me.”
Primeaux’s goal is for the organization to spread to neighboring campuses, such as McNeese, University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Baton Rouge Community College, before he graduates next year.
"Encounter" at LSU has five meetings every semester in Coates room 155 or 152. Prospective students can join the organization at encounterlsu.com or on TigerLink.