Students mirror hardship to raise homeless awareness

Shanty homes built by WKU students remain on South Lawn after Housing and Residence Life’s annual “Shantytown” event. Students were given the opportunity to experience a night of homelessness to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be homeless. Participants also learned how to take positive action to become part of the solution of homelessness.

Jacob Parker

Temperatures will drop in the coming months, and most students will take comfort in the warmth of their parents’ homes when they leave for the winter. However, some Bowling Green residents don’t have the luxury of heat or even a home.

According to data from the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness in 2011, there were 2,192 homeless family members in Kentucky. 

Different organizations across campus came together this week to raise awareness for these individuals in honor of National Homelessness Awareness Week, hosting various events such as group volunteering at the Salvation Army’s soup kitchen and a homelessness simulation to take place Friday night at the Foundry, an event that will carry over until Saturday morning.

The week’s activities kicked off on Monday with the annual Shantytown event on South Lawn sponsored by Housing and Residence Life. Students gathered to build makeshift houses out of materials given to them, including cardboard, duct tape and a tarp.

Each team of students received a “real-life” situation to replicate situations homeless individuals could have to deal with.

Evansville sophomore Ashley Powers, a Residence Assistant in Minton Hall, said her entire council and floor teamed up to build a shanty home.

“Our situation is a 75-year-old named Joseph and he’s blind in one eye,” Powers said.

Teammates wore bandanas over one eye to make the scenario more real.

“He lives in San Diego, which is the third most crowded homeless population in the United States,” she said.

Powers said the plan was to create a simple box as a home for Joseph and add in a place for his shopping cart.

“We also have the roof sloping down so that the rain comes off,” she said. “It’s a really awesome event to raise awareness about homelessness.”

After the exercise, a reflection session was held in the Academic Complex to discuss how each home built would be useful, as well as not useful, in the environment assigned.

On Tuesday, students met at Guthrie Bell Tower for a hunger walk up to the Environmental Sciences and Technology Building, orchestrated by Louisville senior Randy Cook.

“You may have a meal plan and everything, but some people don’t,” he said.

Once at EST, coordinator of the WKU food pantry Sarah Arnold talked to students about the food pantry, located in the Gender and Women’s Studies building, and statistics on homelessness. 

“In Kentucky, there’s about one in five people that do not have the money to afford the right amount of food that they need,” she said.

Arnold said she took a look at the percentage of students in and surrounding Warren County who receive free and reduced lunch.

“In Bowling Green, it’s about 35 percent, but in the surrounding counties, it’s more like 50 to 60 percent,” she said. 

Arnold said that many students don’t renew their meal plans after their freshman year since they aren’t required to have them. Many students who use the food pantry, which is open to anyone associated with WKU, are sophomores who can’t afford a meal plan.

Lauren Cunningham of the ALIVE center, was a guest singer reciting Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and an original song, “Sunny Days,” inspired by her trips to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Cook said he hoped the walk helped to raise awareness on the issue.

“We just need as many voices as possible to help end it,” he said.