Sociology class visits local homeless shelter to bring course content to life

Students enrolled in SOC 1720 Unhoused: Homeless in the U.S. toured and learned from the director of the homeless shelter operated by Allied Churches of Alamance County.

Associate Professor of Sociology Rena Zito’s first-year seminar course SOC 1720 Unhoused: Homeless in the U.S. equips students with a sociological understanding of one of society’s most pressing social issues: homelessness and housing insecurity.

Students visited and toured a local homeless shelter to develop a deeper understanding of what homelessness — and homelessness response — looks like in the local community. This event was made possible by a mini-grant from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) at Elon University.

Jai Baker, director of the homeless shelter operated by Allied Churches of Alamance County, welcomed the sociology students to the facility and led the event. Baker informed the students about local housing issues and the shelter’s approach to getting families and individuals back into housing. Students also toured the shelter and heard about the work being done to address food insecurity in Alamance County.

Students reported that the event was critical to their learning and that they now understand much more about how shelters operate.

“It was great to see how concepts we learned in class play out in reality, and I feel like I have a much better conception of what a homeless shelter might look like,” Lina Ganguly ’26 said.

Another student, Jake Guertin ’27, said, “This shelter changed my perspective of shelters as a whole. I felt the messages they teach were excellent.”

Colleen Baker ’27 offered, “The environment in NC is much different than where I am from and through high school I spent some time volunteering in homeless shelters… being able to see the similarities and differences was interesting… I think it was also great because not only did we get an in-depth explanation of the shelter, it was also interesting to understand classmates’ interpretations of homeless shelters/people.”