Club loses comfort and warmth but gains perspective and gratitude
On a cold November night, with minimal resources of leftover cardboard, scissors, tape and a few other tools to build with, Keene State College students got an “eye opening” glimpse at what it was really like to be homeless, sheltered only by their box shelter for one night.
The grassy area in front of the L.P. Young Student Center was quickly covered by cardboard box forts and building supplies as bundled up students either worked to build box homes of all different shapes and sizes, or spent time roasting marshmallows while conversing with fellow classmates around the fire on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
Some students also added to their forts by using multiple boxes to make their houses big enough for two or more people. Some also worked to prepare their box house for the cold night as they put a small amount of blankets inside.
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As part of the KSC Habitat for Humanity’s Homelessness Awareness week, students came to the Student Center lawn for the chance to build and spend the night in there own box shelters.
The all-night event brought together both students inside and outside of the Habitat for Humanity program. Beyond building and sleeping in box shelters for the night, students also heard stories around the fire about what it was like to be homeless. Students also received information and pamphlets about where to go to help the cause, according to Habitat for Humanity’s Vice President, Michael Helmer.
Helmer, a KSC senior, explained that he had taken part in the annual event a few times before and also mentioned he only made it until 2 a.m. before returning to the dorms during his freshman year.
Helmer said he understood the challenge of the event as, “It’s always pretty cold. People come and they stay for as long as they can, which is still great. It’s always fun to fill up the lawn with people and give them information about the cause.”
Helmer added, “We try to give students a perspective on what it’s like to be homeless for a night, but we also give them information on how they can help as well. We let them know about ways they can help in the area with shelters and community kitchens.”
This event was one of many Homelessness Awareness Week events organized by Habitat for Humanity. The group also put on a “Give a Meal” donation event, a movie night and discussion of the topic of homelessness, and a band night to support the cause.
Helmer also said that, although the all-night program is meant to give students a new perspective, it was also a good way of growing a sense of community among the students who participated.
Helmer shared, “It’s really fun when everyone gets here. You actually get to meet a lot of new people.”
KSC sophomore Jane Plummer who also participated said, “I’m glad I did it. This is a great part of Homelessness Awareness week and a really cool and eye-opening experience.”
The event also presented many activities to students attending that meant to create discussion, community and a larger idea of what being homeless was like.
Students not only worked as a team to build their box shelters, but also discussed what they could do to help. Many of the students also noted that they got to know each other and discuss a lot about the program’s idea and cause while cooking s’mores over a fire.
One portion of the event that many students also mentioned learning a great deal from was when Habitat for Humanity members told the stories of homelessness, where even very successful people ended up losing everything by chance or bad luck.
KSC sophomore and general member of Habitat, Kerri Warren, said, “It was interesting to hear stories of people who became homeless. We heard one about a man who worked at NASA who lost his security and became homeless.” Warren mentioned that she had learned a lot from the event. “I’m enjoying this event. It’s educational and fun enough to attract a bunch of people as well. I also love the community aspect of it,” Warren commented .
Warren shared, “People go through this every day. It could happen to any person just by chance.” Warren added, “It’s important for us to discuss the issues of homelessness.”
Warren also indicated another aspect of the event that she enjoyed. “I liked the hour where we all turned off any of the technology on us. No cellphones, no ipods, none of that.”
KSC sophomore and Habitat e-board member Emily Lloyd, who was one of the event organizers said that even she learned a lot from the event, including the technology turn off activity.
“Giving up my cellphone for an hour made me realize that I was way more attached to it than I thought I was,” Lloyd said.
“I think this is a great experience to see a small glimpse of what people who struggle with homelessness see every night. The community is also working together to recognize homelessness as an issue,” Lloyd added.
Lloyd concluded that, “We know homelessness is out there, – but it’s easy to forget. We should all know about it and do what we can to help.- This event allows us to think about what things we would really miss and makes us more aware.”
Pam Bump can be contacted at