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‘Homeless’ art student’s project provides humbling life lesson

By Christine Clark

UCSD

Shanelle Sherlin, a sophomore at UCSD, now has a glimpse of what it’s like to live life on the streets. The eye-opening experience helped her learn the power of giving to the homeless.

The Muir College student spent 12 hours on the streets of downtown San Diego, recently, where she dug through trash cans, collected bottles, begged for money, and interviewed other homeless people for an art project designed to help others.

“I came up with the idea to pretend to be homeless so that I could learn to relate to (the homeless) and humanize the indigent,” she said. “Before I thought most homeless people were alcoholics or drug addicts, but I learned that wasn’t the case for many of the people I met. One man I talked to lost everything after he was disabled from a car accident.”

Sherlin’s project was for the class, “Visual Arts 2: Introduction into Making Two-Dimensional Art Practices.” As part of her project, she pretended to be a homeless person and recorded the experience with photos.

Sherlin donned old clothes and said she was surprised at how people ignored her or gave her dirty looks. “It was a very humbling experience,” she said. “Most people just walked by, and if I did try to approach someone, they would tell me they didn’t have time to talk.”

Sherlin lived on the streets and collected $27 worth of bottles on Nov. 28. The next day, she went back to the same neighborhood to feed and interview homeless people.

“The homeless people I talked with were just so thankful that I talked to them and gave them attention,” she said. “I think, especially during the holidays, people should think about helping those who are less fortunate than us.”

As a precaution for her safety, Sherlin brought along a friend who helped take photos. “I wasn’t afraid,” she said, “but it was a really eye-opening experience. Although one man offered to give me his coat, most people were unsympathetic.”

Sherlin is a communications major and foundation chair of the Sigma Kappa sorority, which is dedicated to providing women with lifelong opportunities and support for social, intellectual and spiritual development.

Through her sorority, Sherlin has been involved in several philanthropic and community service activities. She has helped organize beach cleanups and volunteer events at elderly centers.

“Giving back to my community is important to me,” she said. “I plan to organize an event with my sorority where we can go back to the streets downtown to help feed the homeless and interview them.”

UCSD has more than 400 student organizations and 68 of them are service-based. These include UCSD Cares, Alternative Breaks, and the Associated Students Volunteer Connection, which worked with staff to organize this year’s annual holiday toy drive.