WKU students simulate homelessness at Shantytown

London junior Karinne Marcum helps erect the roof of her group’s cardboard shanty Wednesday night. Shantytown, in its 21st year at WKU, is an overnight event that allows students and organizations to participate in activities designed to simulate homelessness.

Michael McKay

Stacy Smith, a Building Services Attendant for Housing and Residence Life, has lived in her new home for about a year.

Before that, Smith and her family stayed in a shelter in the backyard of a friend’s house after being evacuated from the building they were renting.

Smith’s new home was built by Habitat for Humanity.

“I never thought we would be homeowners, and now we are,” Smith said Wednesday at WKU’s Shantytown, an overnight event designed to simulate homelessness.

Smith said that volunteering for Habitat has given her an opportunity to give back to the community.

“We have always wanted to do something in our community and we never knew how,” she said.

Wednesday night’s event allowed Smith to share with students and campus organizations her experience with homelessness.

WKU’s 21st shantytown started at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and ended at 7 a.m. Thursday.

The Residence Hall Association organized the event with Housing and Residence Life, the Alive Center and Habitat for Humanity.

Lindsey Gilmore, an advisor for RHA, said that this year’s Shantytown focused more on practicality than in previous years.

“We are building shanties, but the idea is that you build something you can actually sleep in as opposed to this massive amount of cardboard that you are just trying to build very tall and win a skyscraper award to put in your hall,” Gilmore said. “When really, we are trying to raise awareness of homelessness in the area.”

Gilmore said the change was due to a growing number of interested students.

“Now the students want to be involved in the community,” Gilmore said. “They want to give back. They want to be here.”

Students in the dorms worked together to build community structures in which to spend the night.

Jamestown freshmen Lauren Haynes said Minton Hall was committed to sleeping in its shanty.

“Some of us are bringing homework to do in the shanty,” Haynes said. “It was important for us to not wimp out.”

Elizabethtown sophomore Alex Taylor, a resident assistant in Gilbert Hall, said that participants in her group came because they wanted to help people. 

Gilbert, Rodes Harlin, and McCormack Halls all worked together.

“We think we could make a bigger impact as a team,” Taylor said.

Shantytown also included a soup kitchen, live music and other service projects.

Service sororities Omega Phi Alpha and Gamma Sigma Sigma provided refreshments for event participants.

 Kateiri Kintz, an OPA member and resident assistant in Meredith Hall, said her sorority was happy to help in any way it could. OPA sponsored s’mores making for event participants.

“We felt that is a great way to show that we are trying to raise homeless awareness,” Kintz said.

Gilmore said she was hopeful students would gain a new perspective on what it means to be homeless.

“They are going to feel what it’s really like,” she said.