UT Students Live in Poverty for Six Weeks to Study the Effects of Homelessness


While students flock to the dining halls to swipe their Spartan ID, shelter themselves in their dorm rooms, and attend their routine lectures, there are countless individuals who do not have access to anything remotely similar to these luxuries. Last semester, four students (Elizabeth Virgl, Essence Hepburn, and Creed Smith) from UT went homeless, but not for the reasons you may expect.

Carly Capra, a sophomore international business major, partook in the Tampa Urban Project which was a six-week event that saw her group living in poverty while studying the effects of homelessness in this city.

As Jamie Pilarczyk, a web writer for UT that wrote a commentary on her, says, “she didn’t think about homelessness until she came to college and met friends who were involved.” Capra explained how she grew up in a favorable community and school and never had much of a thought for the impoverished. Making the transition to college and making new friends allowed her to see the social injustices that are prevalent in society, including racism and sexism.

Capra observed and experienced racial injustice during her time in the project because of  her being a white woman.

“I never experienced racial injustice and had I not partaken in this project I never would have known the feeling because I am not of an ethnic minority,” Capra said.

She said that racism and poverty do have a correlation and that even though superficially racism has been rid from in the legal system, there were still more forces in play that into racial inequality.

She and her group had to experience poverty first hand by having to live in communal housing on around $3 a day for groceries.

“Budgeting wisely became the biggest issue when your budget is $3 and living in large numbers in small allotted space did not help matters, either,” Capra said.

The limited finances they had went straight to food and toiletries.

She says that her project separated itself from other philanthropic events.

“It was fully immersive and it forced me to step out of my bubble,” Capra said. “But at the end of the day I knew subconsciously there was an end to this project, while for the impoverished there was no end.”

Capra went into the endeavor with the mindset that she knew everything about poverty only to leave with being astonished by how little she actually knew.

“I thought my year volunteering with the homeless made me experienced with [those who are] less fortunate, but that was definitely wrong,” Capra said.

Essence Hepburn, a junior chemistry major and partner with Capra in the project, explained how city government pushed strict rules that made the lives of the homeless harder, such as outlawing panhandling.

“In meetings with the elite business owners, you can tell that the homeless are not welcome in our society,” Hepburn said.

Capra aspires to use her business major to run a nonprofit organization in the future to combat poverty.

“My goal would be to get people out of poverty and equip them with the proper resources to reintegrate into our world,” Capra said.

The word nonprofit has been carrying some negative connotations; however, due to exposures by the media that has shown funds not going to where they were intended and Capra is well aware of this.

“Nonprofits are businesses and there are instances of employees not re-circulating money to the cause, but I want to start or work for a nonprofit that will impact the great city of Tampa and hitting the root causes of poverty,” Capra said.

When asked about her inspiration, Capra doesn’t have a particular business figure that she looks up to.

“I don’t have a particular person I look up to because I have a unique goal,” Capra said. “But I think if we all looked at the way Jesus lived his life, we would have more ethically run businesses, so I do want to follow in Jesus’s ways.”

Her goals going forth are to build the homeless initiative that is already flourishing on campus and looking for more donors to aid in this hefty task.

“A major goal of mine is to bring students out of the university bubble and let them just come five feet outside to see a major crisis currently happening,” Capra said. “I want to work and build with a program that is doing more than just providing meals or a bed to sleep… combating the underlying causes of poverty at its source in essence empowering people.”

Her task ahead is challenging, but Capra is ready for the challenge. Combating injustice is what she set her sights on since entering college and she reinforced her intentions with action.
“[Capra] is just awesome because she has a heart for the less fortunate and loathes injustice,” Hepburn said. “She has a bright future ahead of her and God will do amazing things with her life.”

Michael Yu can be reached at michael.yu@spartans.ut.edu.

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