On the night of Nov. 17, forty McNick students participated in Shantytown, an annual city-wide event organized by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. It is a way for students in Cincinnati area schools to stand in solidarity with the homeless by putting a face to homelessness and learning about the stereotypes associated with those experiencing homelessness.
According to theology teacher and Shantytown participant, Teresa Davis, McNick has been a part of Shantytown for about 17 years. “The Shantytown experience is a great opportunity to look beyond the cardboard sign, a cardboard box, and see human beings,” Davis said.
The students of McNick spent the night at school in cardboard box homes they built in the courtyard below the glass hallway. For dinner, students walked to Kroger and only had one dollar to buy food. “This was a little intimidating at first because usually everything we buy is a lot more than a dollar. I was fearful that what I had in my hand was going to be more than a dollar. I was so sad to know that people experiencing homelessness go through that on a daily basis,” senior Mandy Woll said. Most students bought apples, bananas, cereal, and crackers, which normally isn’t enough to fill up one person.
At Shantytown, students had the opportunity to hear from a woman named Melissa about her experience of homelessness and how she was able to change her attitude. She said that her experiences made her stronger, and she stressed that fact that “everything is temporary.”
“I didn’t really go into this whole thing thinking I would learn that much, but I was very surprised,” senior Tommy Sanker said. “Listening to a person who used to experience homelessness and how she made it through and is now in touch with her kids really meant a lot to me because I realized how unfeeling I was and how most people were towards people experiencing homelessness.”
“I definitely got rid of the stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness because I understood that sometimes it wasn’t their own decisions that got them in this situation,” senior Abby Conatser said. “Some unfortunate things happened to them for them to end up that way.” Some of the stereotypes others have toward the homeless is that they are lazy, possible criminals, and drug addicts, when in reality not all of them are. “Last night I learned that most people don’t become homeless because of drugs. They instead turn to drugs to help fill the void,” senior Kelsey Minnick said.
“My hope for Shantytown was for empathy to blossom throughout the evening,” Davis said. “For the students to open their hearts, minds to those experiencing homelessness and see they are worthy of dignity and respect. The speaker and activities for the evening give that opportunity.”
The Rockets that participated said that Shantytown was a very good experience, and would encourage future seniors to participate in it. “From this point on, instead of just passing by the people experiencing homelessness, I will try to be the light in their day,” Minnick said.