Last Friday night, students from Western Michigan University participated in the Lee Honors College event Shantytown, an event co-organized by the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity to bring homeless awareness to WMU students. These students built a small village of cardboard boxes and duct tape around the Lee Honors College building to spend the night in the cold, bitter weather.
The Lee Honors College and the Kalamazoo Valley Habitat for Humanity teamed together to put on the event. Habitat for Humanity has served the Kalamazoo area since the 1980s and has impacted the lives of many families for the last 30 years. KVHH seeks to improve the quality of life of its partners, volunteers, and the entire community and to inspire everyone to live with a spirit of compassion, according to the KVHH website.
I had the privilege to participate in Shantytown and experience sleeping in below freezing temperatures. Before building my home for the night, I teamed up with other students and we went through certain situations on what it meant to be homeless. We learned about the different shelters and organizations that Kalamazoo has to offer for individuals or families who need a place to stay or to get an opportunity to plan for a successful future.
One of the best parts of the night was the scavenger hunt. My group had a list of items or places that we had to find or get to before returning back to build our shelters. Some of the thing we had to do were to find money, free food, a place to sleep within a building and a shower while roaming campus. My group was able to check off all these items, all of them we found after midnight on Friday on WMU’s campus.
Building the cardboard shelter was fun, yet a challenge. I had to deal with other homeless students who were building their shelters, and they took my cardboard house used it to make their shelter. Though I was able to get me box back, I realized that I needed to keep an eye out for the smallest things like my shelter. If you’re not careful, someone can snatch your house and you will be without a shelter and be exposed to the elements.
The shelter my group built could hold all six of us. It had two rooms and even a cabinet set made out of two small cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other used to hold up the roof. We even put the food that we found and bought that night in our cabinets.
The hardest part of the whole night was not the long walks searching for food or finding a way into the dorms without a bronco ID. The worst part of the night was sleeping in the cold. All night I tweeted the temperature and my current status of what I was feeling and witnessing. With the low temperature of 27 degrees Fahrenheit, I bundled up in my blankets and jacket trying to stay warm. Despite such a great and warm shelter that my group built, the cold eventually made its way into the cardboard house. All night I shivered and my feet were frozen; every part of my body was cold and without a sleeping bag there was no chance to completely regain heat.
I probably slept a grand total of an hour and a half that night. Most of the others had a hard time keeping warm as well. I have experience sleeping outside in tents and cold weather, but this one night was unbearable. Without a sleeping bag, hand warmers and a nice tent to keep in heat, sleeping in below freezing temperatures was intolerable.
What I learned about the Shantytown experience is that I am so lucky to be where I am today. I’m glad to have a roof over my head, heat for my apartment, food in my refrigerator and a warm bed to retreat to for the night. Along with that, I attend WMU and have a supportive family that helps me through tough times. After doing Shantytown and the homeless awareness activities earlier in the evening, I take a lot of things in my life for granted. This was an eye-opening experience that I recommend anyone to do.
In the future, I will be more involved with events like this to help the homeless. Now that I know what they go through, I want to help those who are in need to look for a brighter future.
I encourage the reader to take a moment and think about all the positive things in his or her life. Do you take anything for granted? What people or events were responsible for your current status? Think about these things and be thankful this holiday season that you will be going to sleep in a warm bed rather than a small cardboard box.
To follow all my tweets during the night, look on my account @TylerWilson_WH.