Of housing and the homeless

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Even before the fall semester had started, Saint Louis University’s Habitat for Humanity was feverishly planning for the school year ahead. A major national organization, Habitat for Humanity is a student organization that engages in social events, fundraisers, volunteering and education in order to end substandard housing.

One of the club’s most popular events, Cardboard City, allows students to build structures out of cardboard and sleep in them overnight. Its purpose is to increase empathy for people living in substandard housing. Habitat members dedicate a large amount of time preparing for this event, as it is not something that can simply be planned in one day.

“All of the cardboard used is collected from freshmen move-in, so we count on club members to be ready for Habitat time before the school year technically even begins,” said co-president Emily Burghoff. “Every year we [also] always have devout club members donating hours of their summer to collect cardboard for this event.”

While the event might sound strange to some, those who attend are never disappointed. At the kick-off, students usually receive duct tape, spray paint, and their cardboard boxes as well as a boost of encouragement to get creative and make a “home” that is fit to be judged for competition.

“[We have] a competition of who can make the best house!” exclaimed co-president Kathleen Gallagher. “We have some judging criteria, and judging takes place later during the night. We always have very creative submissions–in the past we’ve had people build a rocket ship, Hogwarts, and even the Cupples House.”

At the beginning of the night, Habitat asks the builders to spray paint facts concerning housing issues, substandard housing and the Habitat for Humanity organization. These facts are then taken into consideration at the end, when the vice president of fellowship examines and judges the houses.

This year, however, the Cardboard City event was cancelled due to rain. Undeterred, Habitat for Humanity sponsored a makeup event for the following Monday that was full of fun, smiles and meaningful messages.

“The alternate event on Monday featured the speaker who was supposed to be at the event on Saturday. They are also a Habitat homeowner,” stated Betsy Barton, a Habitat member. “She is closing on her Habitat house next week, so that was really exciting to see someone whose life has actually been changed by the work that we do.”

Many students such as Gallagher agree with Barton that the speakers are the best part of the night. “It is a phenomenal experience to hear their stories because it continually ignites my passion to continue my work with Habitat for Humanity.”

In addition, students were able to go on a scavenger hunt around campus and participate in a “mini Cardboard City building contest.” Rather than a large-scale house that they could have slept in, students made little gingerbread-like houses out of cardboard.

Although the event in itself is fun, the message it sends is serious. There are individuals who must sleep in these cardboard boxes every night.

They struggle to find warmth and are in a constant battle of life and death. The purpose of Cardboard city is to encourage people to live like them for one night in order to raise awareness about the cause.

While the event was cancelled due to rain, it highlighted the environmental struggle that homeless people must face on a daily basis.

Rain or shine, however, Habitat for Humanity promotes substandard living awareness at SLU while also bringing a bit of fun.

While they hope it is not cancelled in future years, Habitat is always prepared to make the most out of any situation.