Raising awareness
Students sleep outside to understand homelessness

OXFORD - Some Oxford College students slept outside in cardboard boxes Friday night, but not because they didn't have anywhere else to go or because they thought it would be fun; rather they wanted to raise awareness about homelessness.

"It's so easy to find yourself in that position ... where everything you have is gone," said Erica Hundertmark, residence life coordinator at Oxford College. "A lot of students here don't think they could ever be in that position, but they could."

A group of student groups organized a Cardboard Box City on the campus Friday. From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday, students were outside in cardboard boxes to raise awareness about homelessness in Georgia and around the country.

"We're kids trying to be the voice and a foundation for change," said Munir Meghjani, a sophomore from Fayetteville. "Our parents' generation were all about getting things done, but a lot of our generation have given up on the government and are all about doing everything ourselves."

Some students' interest in the project was sparked after a trip to New Orleans over spring break.

"We went to New Orleans, where people still didn't have houses, to make them sandwiches and talk to them," freshman Dashay Carter said. "It was eye-opening to see them without things that we take for granted."

Wal-Mart donated about 30 cardboard boxes to the Oxford College students for Friday night's event, which raised money for a homeless shelter in metro Atlanta. Students paid $10 for boxes and also collected money throughout the night.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the most common places the homeless stay are vehicles (59 percent) and makeshift housing, like boxes and tents (25 percent).

Hundertmark said she and the other resident assistants who helped organize the event encouraged students to bring warm clothes and advised against the use of electronic devices like laptop computers and iPods.

Earlier in the evening, students played board games and decorated their boxes with markers for a chance to win a pizza delivery during the night. Everybody's BBQ - a group on campus that operates a soup kitchen on a regular basis to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness - provided food to attract more students to participate in the event.

"We are stressing to students that especially when going to Atlanta, when they see panhandlers to not ignore them,"

Hundertmark said. "They are people too."

Republican and Democrat groups also debated the issue of homelessness during the evening.

Students hope they can hold another Box City event next year and get more students involved.

"This is the first time we're doing this, so hopefully it's a tradition that will be carried on," Hundertmark said. "Homelessness is an issue that is not going to go away overnight."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.