Monday, October 29, 2001

Xavier 'Shantytown' brings homeless life home

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Amid the crisp blue-sky autumn afternoon that belied the cold night ahead, Xavier University students on Sunday put their hammers to nails and their hearts to the homeless.

        Sunday night marked the first night of “Shantytown '01” on the Evanston campus, in which students sleep in cardboard huts for the week.

        The purpose is not so much to provide a campus spectacle, but to raise awareness for the weeklong events at Xavier on the problems of — and help for — Cincinnati's homeless.

        “I think of my own life, how I complain about having to walk across campus in the cold, and I know some people have it a lot worse,” said Karen Nicolai, a senior nursing major from Bridgetown.

        A $50 fee per shanty is required from students who want to participate. About 20 campus organizations are taking part.

        All proceeds go to local agencies that assist the homeless.

        Speakers at a Sunday night event on campus included homeless residents of the Drop-Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine.

        “It's always good — we send a contingent out and they can tell their story,” Drop-Inn emergency shelter coordinator Denise Crew said. “It puts a face and a personality with the word "homeless.'

        “Now,” she said, “if somebody tells one of these students, "Well, the homeless are lazy,' or this or that, they can say, "That's not true. I've met some of them.'”

        Some Xavier students volunteer as GED tutors at the center, which on Sunday had 145 of its 180 beds taken. That number will rise as the temperatures drop.

        Shantytown '01 student coordinator Amy Krings began volunteering at the center as a freshman. The senior social-work major said the experience was invaluable.

        “All the attention is to sleeping out but it's not to pretend to be homeless,” she said. “It's to raise awareness.”

        Some students were keenly aware of the plight of the homeless, but others, such as Ben Krause of Omaha, Neb., weren't.

        “I personally never saw homelessness and poverty,” the junior majoring in philosophy and Spanish explained as he constructed his cardboard “home.” “Staying out here isn't as important as getting involved spiritually.”

        The University of Cincinnati addressed the issue with a full-day conference, “The Changing Face of Homelessness in Cincinnati,” earlier this month. Topics included health concerns and resources.


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