Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Students learn first hand about homeless

Shantytown simulation far from picnic

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP - Seventeen-year-old Andrea Sebastian didn't think it would be so hard to live in a cardboard box in warm weather on the field at Kings High School.

        But then the high school senior got hungry. And cold. The shelter she and her classmates so carefully put together using cardboard boxes and duct tape started falling apart. It was drafty at night and soggy in the morning from the dew.

[photo] Kings High School senior Devin Altman organized the Shantytown project.
(Dick Swaim photos)
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        “It's a lot harder than we thought,” Andrea said Tuesday after just one night in her makeshift home. “Food was rationed. We had leftover salad from the Olive Garden and chicken noodle soup. We drank water.”

        “Shantytown” was the idea of senior Devin Altman, who organized the project as a fund-raiser for the South Lebanon Food Pantry. Applicants had to pledge to raise at least $30 each for the food pantry, get letters of recommendation from two teachers and write an essay on why they wanted to participate.

        “White suburban Americans - like us - don't get to see issues like this,” Devin said. “We're a privileged group of people. I'm very thankful now for what I have.”

        Locally, few public high schools undertake such a venture. Finneytown High School students stopped building their shantytown a few years ago. College students are more apt to construct them.

        The 30 seniors who met the criteria began building shelters Monday. They will take them down when classes end today.

[photo] Stefanie Cornelius (left) and Paige Firestone repair wind damage to a shantytown near their school.
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        Students cannot leave Shantytown except to attend classes. They brought only the clothes on their backs, some tarps, sleeping bags and toiletries. Many went into the woods across the street to look for tree limbs to help anchor their homes.

        For lunch students could eat only if they begged money for the school's $1.75 meal.

        “I like earning my money better,” said Liz Atkinson, 17. “I wasn't embarrassed to beg because I only asked people I know. I would be (embarrassed) if I asked people I didn't know.”

        After wind knocked down some shelters, Paige Firestone, 17, was resigned to rebuilding.

        “It looks like a tornado went through our town,” Paige said. “This has changed my perspective of the homeless. This doesn't devastate us - we're in a controlled environment with people watching out for us. Homeless people (draw contempt) just for messing up” an area.

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