Shack-a-Thon teaches students about homelessness


What would it be like not to have a roof over your head or a place to shower, or not to know where your next meal would come from? Would you beg at a street corner, relying on the kindness of strangers, or turn to a shelter in search of food and compassion? Or would you try to make it on your own?

According to the most recent report (2011) from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, about 636,000 people went unsheltered on any given night in 2011, a statistic that translates to roughly twenty-one homeless people per 10,000 individuals.

To help college students to become better informed about homelessness, Southwestern University’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity hosted Shack-a-Thon, their third annual homeless-awareness event, this past April.

Event organizers asked groups of up to ten people to build shacks out of cardboard, duct tape, and anything else they could scavenge to simulate what it might be like to spend a night as a homeless person.

Teams arrived around 3 p.m. Friday and each began building their shack on an allocated ten-by-ten-foot plot at Southwestern’s Academic Mall.

“Finding materials with which to build a shack is really difficult!” says Southwestern’s Shack-a-Thon chair, Katy Jones. “When I found cardboard, it was often damp or so small that it was of no use to me.” She eventually found a salvaged refrigerator box, from which she spent the night keeping a watchful eye on the competing teams and making sure that at least one person from each team spent the entire night in their fabricated shack. This year, six teams—including teams from two local high schools—took part in the Shack-a-Thon, competing for distinctions such as “most structurally sound” and “most creative.”

Participants also listened to an address on the importance of homeless awareness given by a Habitat for Humanity representative and to another by the chapter’s faculty adviser, Ron Swain. The Shack-a-Thon group also hosted several musical acts, including the PHDs—a band of professors from Southwestern.

“Our chapter arranged both dinner and breakfast with the help of CiCi’s Pizza, Chick-fil-A, and H-E-B,” says Katy, who oversaw preparations for the 2013 event, recruited teams, and sought out donors from the community. “Even though we provide entertainment and food at the event, I really think it gives participants a taste of what it is like not to have the promise of a roof or bed,” Katy adds. “And that’s what the event is all about.”

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