Saturday, April 27, 2002

Camp has teens feeling solidarity with homeless

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        WYOMING — For two nights, a group of Wyoming High School students traded comfortable quarters for cardboard and square meals for handouts.

        By sleeping outdoors in boxes and begging for lunch items from their schoolmates, the 17 teens glimpsed a few of the realities facing homeless people. They endured Wednesday's thunderstorm, which soaked and scattered their corrugated shelters. They reported for class each day in the clothes they had worn (and slept in) since their experiment began Wednesday.

        Staples of middle class teen existence such as showers, cell phones and CD players were unknown in Shantytown Wyoming. Homework was done by flashlight. When the wet and the chill kept many students from sleep, they sang.

        “We were never so glad to get up and go to school,” said participant Cody West with a sleepy grin. “I was really cold and really, really hungry.“

        Students subsisted on the kindness of others: a few stale pastries for breakfast, handouts of food or money from others at lunch, and soup kitchen fare for supper. They were not allowed to beg from friends or sit with each other when eating at Cincinnati's Drop-Inn Center.

        The project was coordinated by students with the support of high school officials and the help of Mike Pearl, director of Wyoming Youth Services Bureau.

        “When I first started with the Youth Services Bureau three years ago, I thought about doing this, but waited until I had a group of students that could take the ball and run with it,” he said. “This year, the students approached me about it.”

        “Often we view homelessness as being out there, far removed from us here in Wyoming, inside the bubble, as we say,” said high school principal Kenneth Baker. “These students have brought awareness inside the bubble.”

        The activity captured the attention of the entire student body, participants said.

        “Some kids complained that we were trivializing the problems of the homeless, but it's brought up a lot of conversation,” said Joseph Fullman.

        Mr. Pearl was surprised at the stamina exhibited by the project participants.

        “On Wednesday night I was waiting for somebody to say, "I'm going home,' but nobody did,” he said. “I had the key to the school, so they could have asked to go inside and wash, but they didn't.”

        Shantytown Wyoming, modeled on similar projects at schools such as Ursuline Academy and St. Xavier High School, also used speakers, films and discussions. Organizers see the project continuing as more students decide to take part.

        “After the first night it totally changed the way I think about homeless people,” said Joseph. “Rather than thinking about them as "the homeless,' it's easier to see people in their individual situations.”


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