A campaign to educate the community, students on chronic homeless wins recognition

LINCOLN, NEB. -- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications was one of eight honorees to be recognized at the 8th annual homeless coalition breakfast in Lincoln. The ceremony was part of Lincoln's Continuum of Care Recognition Celebration breakfast hosted by Fresh Start Home November 16, 2007.

The campaign, "I didn't need your money, I just needed a change," won recognition in the media category. Cornerstone Printing, who printed the posters, flyers and brochures, was recognized in the business category.

UNL advertising students, who worked with the Downtown Lincoln Association and the UNL Office of Student Affairs to promote awareness of the best ways to help end panhandling and help the homeless get off the streets, were Cassie Behle, Sam Larson, Joe Mitchell, Todd Ogden, Seth Pollard, Kaela Prochaska and Mike Yates. UNL graphic artist Marcelo Plioplis taught the class. Students worked on the fall 2006 campaign in an advanced communication graphics class.

The campaigns' promotional messages encouraged people to give their loose change to professional agencies that provide mental health services, substance abuse treatment, job training and shelter and was unveiled April 18.


Campaign Release


Lincoln, Neb., April 17, 2007 -- "Help give the chronic homeless the change they really need" is the educational message and theme of a joint campaign of the Downtown Lincoln Association and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Office of Student Affairs, to be unveiled April 18.

Developed by students in a UNL advertising class in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, the awareness project is designed to inform Lincoln visitors and residents, including UNL students, of the best ways to help chronic homeless men and women, often called panhandlers.

"Those who need your help the most do not need your donations. They need a second chance," reads advertising copy on a poster from the campaign. "Give them the change that really matters: hope." Informational messages in the campaign support giving instead to organizations that directly help the homeless: Peoples City Mission, Matt Talbot Kitchen, Cornhusker Place, The Gathering Place and Lincoln/Lancaster County Homeless Coalition.

Posters, flyers, brochures and other traditional elements of a promotional or communications campaign, as well as a few "guerrilla marketing" pieces are included in the campaign that evolved from the class project that is now carried planned for roll-out by DLA and UNL. The campaign pieces will begin showing up downtown and at UNL April 18.

"One of the most important messages in the campaign is awareness of the difference between chronic homeless and crisis homeless," said Todd Ogden, a senior advertising and political science major from Lincoln who worked on the advertising class project. "The chronic homeless are in a rut, and by giving them money, it hurts the situation even more. Our message is to ask people to refrain from giving money to panhandlers and instead, suggest a donation to one of the agencies who can help them."

Ogden said the class's research and input from the agencies indicates that spare change or money given to street people is often spent on addictive behaviors, furthering the homelessness cycle. Many of Lincoln's chronically homeless individuals congregate on popular downtown Lincoln corners: 13th and P streets, 14th and P streets and 14th and O streets, as well as near the Nebraska Union at 14tg and R streets, or in the residence hall vicinity.

"I've given people money before because I had no clue. I just wanted to help," Ogden said. The project team's research also highlighted that panhandlers often target university students. The university attempts to educate students new to Lincoln about panhandling behavior and student safety, and recently launched a task force to communicate and respond to concerns about homelessness, as well as to initiate an educational campaign, said Juan Franco, UNL vice chancellor for student affairs.

"As positively and proactively as possible, our intent is to first be compassionate to our homeless neighbors and to help them find and get the help they need in getting off the streets and finding a safer and more comfortable life," Franco said. "Part of that is listening to students' concerns and ideas and working with the agencies who do such a wonderful job in our community. Our messages are hope-filled and by students doing their part, and working with this campaign, we feel we can be part of the best solution."

Posters with photographs including messages written on cardboard, "I didn't need your money, all I really needed was a change," are part of the communication campaign, as well as table-top signs affixed to donation boxes, brochures, handouts and other downtown and campus signage. The guerrilla marketing piece are the "shadow people" cutouts -- life-size board silhouettes of a human figure holding the cardboard sign. The silhouettes will appear on street corners, near buildings, on benches or in the Nebraska Union, reminding people of the campaign.

"The 'shadows' are a way to bring notice to the campaign," Ogden said. "We want people to stop and look, as in 'This is where a panhandler used to be and I'm not here anymore because you've helped me.'"
Three students who worked on the fall 2006 campaign (for an advanced communication graphics class) continued to work on the project this spring for DLA: Ogden, Seth Pollard and Kaela Prochaska. Other students involved in the class taught by UNL graphic artist Marcelo Plioplis were Cassie Behle, Sam Larson, Joe Mitchell and Mike Yates.

"It has been a very positive experience working with the students, UNL, LPD and the Downtown Lincoln Association on this complicated issue," said Susanne Blue, executive director of Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach, part of the Lincoln/Lancaster Homeless Coalition. "Bringing people together from the different areas of the community and including agencies involved with the Homeless Coalition lends credibility to the project and inspires hope that our collective efforts do make a difference. It is important to support the many local agencies that are serving the homeless population and to encourage projects like this, led by compassionate students, who are the future of our community."

The students also have benefited from their work on the project.

"Our advertising program gets students working with real-world clients as much as possible," said Amy Struthers, assistant professor of advertising at UNL. "The Downtown Lincoln Association has partnered with us before, and provides our students with great learning experiences. We love seeing our ad students' work used to help out our community."

Franco said student leadership by the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska has been crucial in developing the project. ASUN, the student government body, had identified communication about chronically homeless as a concern early in the academic year and appointed a committee to look at the issue. The committee and ASUN later joined forces with the DLA.

The group collaboration will be discussed and the campaign kicked off at a news briefing at 10:30 a.m. April 18 at the Nebraska Union. Proactive education about its intent is important, the collaborators said.

"We are so pleased to have the input and support of the agencies involved and have them serve on our resource team," said Polly McMullen, president of DLA. "We've also been pleased to be able to work with these students on it. They were passionate about it, and very skilled, doing all of the design, artwork and copy-writing. Our goal is that our project is seen as sensitive, caring and hopeful."