GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — Sophia Melotte, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, is breaking the stigma surrounding homelessness.
“Getting to talk to them and hear how much it means to them just to have someone there to listen, they just enjoy having someone who cares, and that means a lot to me," she said.
Not only that, she's dedicating her entire summer to giving back to them.
“Sometimes you need someone to get the ball rolling and really get it out there," said Melotte.
On any given night, more than 500 people in Brown County will stay in a homeless shelter, according to data from St. John’s, and as of January 2020, Wisconsin had an estimated 4,515 experiencing homelessness, according to data from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“Just because there are jobs hiring doesn’t mean they have the same chance that any one of us do," said Melotte. "It’s really hard to get a job if you don’t have an address to provide to an employer, and a lot of the employers around here don’t want to give them a chance. It’s hard for them to go to a job interview when they don’t have the right clothes. They have their stuff with them so it’s hard for them to walk into an interview when they have bags and stuff.“
Using social media to get the community involved, Melotte is collecting donations and raising money to buy items to donate to shelters and directly to the homeless. So far, she’s already raised more than $1,000.
“A ton of strangers that I don’t know, but they love what I’m doing and love to help out and they want to be a part of it," she said.
Melotte is changing minds, and she's changing lives.
“I’m definitely guilty of giving them that label, that they’re lazy or they can’t get a job or they choose not to get a job," said Nathan Meyer, a freshman at UWGB. "Just definitely a little bit more open minded than what I was before.”
Sophia had her first donation drop-off at Preble Park last week and plans to have more throughout the summer. If you want to get involved, just look up ‘Sophia Melotte’ on Facebook and shoot her a message.
“I wanted to be that person to kind of start, get things going, and hopefully get more of the community engaged," said Melotte. "Because the shelters can only do so much if not everybody helps.“