Students build awareness
by MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
Huddled together Friday in makeshift shelters as the temperature plunged to 32 degrees, 70 Fort Hays State University students slept in the quad to understand the everyday life of the homeless.
Shack City was the finale of Poverty Awareness Week, a series of events initiated by a team from FHSU's Leadership 310 course.
The program challenged teams of up to 10 people to build a shack with cardboard or wood pallets and live in the university's quad from 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday.
Michaela Sasse, an FHSU sophomore and a member of the team that organized the event, said a similar student project from eight years ago inspired Shack City.
Sasse said struggling to find enough cardboard gave her pause.
"It made us realize how hard that actually is to have to find something that you have to live in when it's really your only option," Sasse said.
Linn Ann Huntington, co-president of Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County and FHSU's director of journalism, said the FHSU team was donating all the proceeds from the event's registration fee to her organization.
Huntington said they approached her several months ago about designating the nonprofit as the program's beneficiary.
Huntington said she hoped the evening gave the students some perspective.
"My hope is that students will get a small taste tonight of what it's like not to have the conveniences most of us take for granted," she said.
The area's poverty problem often goes unseen because many people do not have a warm place to sleep or enough food to eat, Huntington said.
Census data from 2010 revealed 13.6 percent of Ellis County, or 3,728 residents, lived below the poverty line that year, she said.
The mark counted families with two parents and two children that earned less than $22,113, Huntington said.
Maureen Duffy, wife of FHSU geosciences associate professor John Heinrichs, said her husband works with a student group to keep them aware others live in less fortunate circumstances.
"I think we all believe solidarity with the poor is really important," Duffy said. "It's one of things that in particular at the Global Learning Community, John being the coordinator of that, we've tried to get them to see not everybody lives the same way we do."
The evening's activities included games, a scavenger hunt and live bands.
Huntington said Hays does not have a homeless shelter, and the city usually transports homeless individuals to Salina.