By Kelly Burns, Staff Writer
Central Quad is dark. Students sit in the lamplight, enthralled by the speaker in front of them. Around them, darker shapes stand in the shadows. If there were light, these shapes would be seen for what they are — cardboard houses.
Hours before, mounds of cardboard boxes occupied Central Quad. Slowly, under the curious glances of passersby, the mounds were formed into shelters by different teams.
Miami’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity hosted Shanty City Saturday night. This was Shanty City’s second year at Miami.
Different campus groups built their own shacks that would later provide shelter for Miami students who would experience what it’s like to be homeless, at least for a night.
The event aims to raise awareness about homelessness and poverty, especially in Ohio.
The outreach liaison for Habitat for Humanity, Kelli Sunderman, said that planning for the event began in April and that she was working on it through the summer and first weeks of the fall semester.
Sunderman sought to bring a slightly more serious air to the event this year while still making it a fun experience for the people there.
“I think on our campus we really needed someone to really make it real for students what poverty and homelessness is and how relevant it is in our own community,” Sunderman said.
The event included a scavenger hunt for facts relating to homelessness that were hidden around Central Quad. Homelessness statistics covered the event’s decorations as well.
The participants included Habitat for Humanity and the Scholar Leader LLC, but the event was open to anyone and everyone who wanted to be a part of Shanty City.
Sophomores Phoebe Meyers and Susanna Smith took part in the event with other Scholar Leaders.
“Part of being a Scholar Leader is doing community service,” Smith said. “And it was presented to us, and I honestly didn’t know what it was, but it ended up being really cool.”
The girls and their team set out to work on building their shelter out of nothing but cardboard and duct tape.
“We had hundreds of cardboard pieces that we were all putting together to make a structure that some people were going to sleep in.” Smith said.
After they had been working for a while, all of the groups gathered to listen to a speaker.
Sunderman decided to bring in a speaker for this year’s event in an effort to make the event more impactful and paint a clearer picture of homelessness.
“Homelessness isn’t just living on the streets,” Sunderman said. “It’s doubling up in another home. It’s couch surfing. There are a bunch of different variations, and I think the speakers did a good job opening the event and making it real for students.”
The speaker’s name was Melissa. She came as a part of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, and she shared her story of being homeless with the students.
Both Meyers and Smith were struck by her story.
“It was very-eye opening. I think a lot of people take for granted the privilege that they have, me especially,” Smith said. “I don’t think about where I’m gonna sleep or where I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”
Part of the reason speakers were brought in was to humanize homelessness to the students.
“It was so important to have a particular person, a really human story, told about homelessness to generate more immediate sympathy than a bunch of nameless statistics,” Meyers said.
Melissa spoke about her journey and how she is now living in an apartment.
“She was incredibly brave in sharing her story with us,” Meyers said. “I had never heard anything quite like it.”
Neither Smith nor Meyers knew what to expect when they first arrived at the event, but both left with a newfound inspiration and drive to help improve the world around them.
“I felt really inspired to raise awareness about homelessness in our own backyard,” Meyers said. “And to try to think of solutions to the issue.”
“I can appreciate what I have and understand that there are people in different situations from my own,” Smith said. “It ignites a passion inside of me that makes me want to change this situation for other people.”
Habitat for Humanity plans on keeping Shanty City around in the years to come. Sunderman hopes that it will continue to grow.
“In the future we want to make it bigger event where Central Quad is full or we have to take it to a different location on campus where it’s this huge thing,” she said.