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March 21, 2012
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Office: 724.738.4854
Cell: 724.991.8302

Cardboard village magnifies homeless issues

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Consider them forts for the forgotten. More than 125 Slippery Rock University students will construct and spend the night in cardboard “houses” March 29-30, hunkering down in the Quad to raise awareness of hunger and homeless issues.
    The annual program includes new elements. A health clinic with first aid kits and safe sex packets will be set up, replicating the outreach offered to the homeless in shelters. Vegetable soup will be served to mitigate hunger and the cold – if it’s cold.
    “We want to give people a better idea of the different items the homeless may have access to,” said Rene Bateman, a nurse practitioner at SRU’s McLachlan Student Health Center, one of the sponsors.  SRU Hope Peer Educators will be on hand to staff the clinic, explaining that the homeless do not have access to medicine and suffer more health problems.
      “They might have some infection that can be cured by antibiotics, but they might not have access to the medication,” Batemen said.
      Jena Hazlett, a community counseling graduate student from Altoona and Cardboard Village leader, said 15 campus groups signed up to participate. The ground rules are simple: Houses must be constructed with cardboard, tape and tarps, but nothing else. Flashlights and quiet games are fine, but electronic devices, pets, alcohol and food are not allowed, she said.
     At least one student from each participating group must occupy the dwelling at all times overnight. In previous years, students occupied houses in shifts.
    “Having students sleep out in the quad for the night will provide those students with a small taste of what being homeless is like,” Hazlett said. “Regardless of the weather, students will still have to sleep out in the Quad. I personally feel that to have an understanding of what one goes through, one should walk in someone else’s shoes.”
    Hazlett said participating enables her to give back to the community, and she hopes the event will inspire others to volunteer at shelters or soup kitchens.
    “Without making people aware of issues that are happening, individuals are less likely to get involved and help,” she said. “My hope is that many people who become aware of what is going on in the world will try to make a difference in some way.”
     Stereotypes about the homeless abound, Hazlett said.
     “I have heard that those who are homeless are not educated or successful, when in reality anyone can become homeless,” she said. “There also seems to be ageism. Individuals do not think about younger people being homeless.”
    The Center for Student Involvement and Leadership is another of the event sponsors.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania’s premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.