As the weather turns wetter and colder, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition brings attention to those experiencing homelessness through their city-wide program, Shantytown. Shantytown is an opportunity that helps students learn the difficulties of what it is like to live without a home. “Shantytown has been a tradition at McNicholas to open our eyes to the barriers and problems of people we walk by,” theology teacher Teresa Davis said.
Shantytown’s name came from the depression era. People lost their properties, couldn’t pay their taxes, and were without homes (depts.washington.edu). “They would set up little communities and put up shanties, or lean-tos,” Davis said. Those living in shanties tended to gather together, resembling towns, hence the name shantytown.
Students participating in Shantytown brought their own boxes to set up a community to be in solidarity with those who are homeless and who experience what it is like to sleep outside in the elements on a daily basis.
Shantytown took place at McNick Oct. 26, starting at 5:45 p.m. with an opening prayer. Students set up their boxes, and received envelopes with varied amounts of money to walk to Kroger with and buy their dinner for the night. “They are given the chance to figure out community – or not,” Davis said. After students ate dinner, they participated in activities looking at demographics and statistics of those experiencing homelessness. They also heard from Willa Jones, an advocate for homelessness from the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. “We get to meet someone we can’t just walk away from,” Davis said.
Students did have time for homework and made signs out of cardboard with what they have learned throughout the evening to greet McNicholas students the following day before school started. They then slept in their cardboard homes for the rest of the night. “I hope they get uncomfortable,” Davis said . “It is a hard day after sleeping on the ground.” Students were awakened at 7 a.m. with a cold bagel for breakfast.
Some of the statistics of people experiencing homelessness were striking to students from this year’s Shantytown. “The average age of a child in Cincinnati [experiencing homelessness] is nine years old. That was shocking to me,” senior Sam Veeneman said.
During Shantytown, Jones, who had experienced homelessness for five years, spoke to McNick’s students, telling them her story. After Jones’s husband died, she was unable to work and lost her house, her swimming pool, and her two cars. She lived on the streets until she was directed to Anna Louise Inn, a low-cost facility for women. Jones started writing poetry, and published her book, My Life in Poem. Jones has had a home now for four years. “I really liked how she talked about how homelessness can happen to anyone. I thought it was interesting to learn about her journey and the struggles that she faced,” senior Jordan McCormick said. “She had a determined spirit despite what she had been through.”
“I hope [students] find empathy and understand that no one was born wanting to experience homelessness,” Davis said. “We see a new dimension of one of God’s people… They are God’s children.”