Sixteen University of Tennessee at Chattanooga criminal justice students stepped out into the community during the spring semester for their Community Engagement class to help Chattanooga’s homeless population and work alongside local service providers.
Professor of Criminal Justice Tammy Garland organized the course to get her students engaged in the community and apply the skills they learned in the classroom.
Garland has been a professor at UTC for 18 years but described her real passion as community service. She works with several local agencies and is a board member for Chattanooga Community Housing Development Organization and the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute.
“I like to grow students not only in the classroom but grow them in their craft and in the community—and as a person,” she said. “I wanted to give students a skills-based course to help them learn all the things they are going to need to know for their profession and basically get them involved and fill their hearts.”
Students in Garland’s class began their work in the classroom to learn about homelessness, poverty and crime. Guest speakers from organizations such as Metropolitan Ministries and Habitat for Humanity spoke about their work and how they assist low-income individuals to escape poverty and find housing.
Later in the semester, students started their work in the community, beginning with a scavenger hunt around Chattanooga to learn about the homeless population and the resources that exist to help them.
“Most of our students live on campus but aren’t aware of what is happening two streets over,” Garland said. “They have no idea that there is a shelter, there are homeless camps, homeless health care and other services.”
The students also got to volunteer and help serve dinner at the CHATT Foundation, a Chattanooga community kitchen that provides the city’s homeless population with food, shelter, clothing and counseling.
When Garland’s class visited a homeless camp in Chattanooga, a storm had just come through and destroyed one of the tents that held their clothing. On their own, the students organized a clothing drive.
Garland said her students took ownership of the clothing drive and created flyers for it, allowing them to collect plenty of clothing and other necessities such as bedding, pillows and air mattresses for the homeless camp.
UTC senior Ethan Robinson said that, while it was sad to see the treatment of the people at the homeless camp, he found it fun to interact with them and hear their stories.
One of the biggest lessons Robinson learned confirmed Garland’s ideas about the lack of knowledge surrounding homelessness in Chattanooga.
“Topics such as poverty and homelessness aren’t talked about nearly enough as they should be,” said Robinson, a native of Chattanooga. “Especially when we have places such as 11th Street, which is right next to our campus, and how bad these poverty-ridden areas look, but how good places like downtown near the aquarium look, which are barely a mile away.”
Junior LK Whitsett, a student from Winchester, Tennessee, said that volunteering at the homeless camp and talking with its residents was one of her favorite activities from the class. She shared that, while the class participated in several community service activities, each one felt equally important.
“Dr. Garland made a great point to me once that you can’t fix everything at once, but every big change starts small, and every effort makes a difference,” she said. “Community outreach and volunteering can be emotionally taxing at times, so having the mindset makes for more stability for long-time work.”
Garland spoke with pride about her students and said she looks forward to teaching this course again.
“Being a good person and passing it forward, that is my goal,” she said. “I wanted them to see that all is not lost and that there are people out in this world who are really helping.”