Cardboard City educates students on homelessness

The courtyard was dark except for a few street lamps. People were scattered across the grass either on top of or under cardboard boxes, the wind shaking the flimsy makeshift homes.

Inside the boxes were Central Michigan University students. On Oct. 16, in the courtyard outside the Charles V. Park Library, the annual Cardboard City had students spending hours in cardboard box houses for the night.

“It’s really important to go through this process because by attending a university we’re already privileged,” freshman Emily Reeves said. “It’s important to gain a better global understanding of the different lives that people have to live due to their circumstances.”

Hosted by the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center, this is the fifteenth year the event has been held as part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week.

According to  the National Allegiance to End Homelessness, 564,708 people were homeless in January 2015. 

“We really want people to understand that we have a choice. Not everyone has a choice," said Lauren Lynn, event student coordinator at the Volunteer Center. "We don’t want people to walk in people’s shoes because we will never be able to truly experience that unless it unfortunately happens to us, but we want people to gain empathy towards how those people that are homeless feel and what they need us to do.” 

The event featured two guest speakers from different local homeless shelters. Ryan Griffus was the first speaker and discussed the Isabella County Restoration House, a rotating shelter for people in Isabella and the surrounding county. He also shared his personal experiences with homelessness.

 “I get a little overcome with emotion thinking about the fact everybody here could be anywhere doing anything else right now, but they’re out here and it’s cold out," he said. "They’re out here working and pledging their time and energy towards a very worthwhile cause that’s near and dear to my heart, and many others in this community as well.” 

The second speaker was Rihan Issa, a representative of Women’s Aid Service in Isabella County. She talked about the women’s shelter and that a lot of homelessness in women is caused by abuse.

Isabella County has one of the highest homelessness and poverty rate at 46.5 percent in Michigan“I want people to take away from this that homelessness is multifaceted and there are a lot of reasons people become homeless and the reasons are beyond their control because no one chooses to not have a home," she said.

About 50 students were in cardboard boxes, with a long line left to sign in, only an hour into the event.  Cardboard City concluded with a candle light vigil that lit up the courtyard.

“Educate yourself, educate yourself, educate yourself.” Said Lauren Lynn. “I think it's so important and it's hopefully what we've done here.”