Students experience what it feels like to be homeless for a night on the UNLV campus
Students bent and stacked cardboard boxes, attempting to keep the cold out of their makeshift shelters for the night.
Almost 40 students attended “Shanty Town” Nov. 19 at the North Field. The interactive event was part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and highlighted the harsh conditions facing Las Vegas’ homeless population.
UNLV students spent the night outside, battling cold and wet conditions equipped with nothing but boxes, a few sleeping bags and blankets.
The event was intended to simulate the conditions the homeless face on an everyday basis.
Event organizers encouraged participants not to use cell phones as students spent 12 hours, from 8 p.m. Thursday to 8 a.m. Friday morning, in the blistering cold.
Graduate assistant Alfonso Ayala from the Office of Civic Engagement and Diversity said he was pleased with the turnout.
“We hope that people that come out can get a little understanding of what homeless people have to go through every day,” he said.
“This year we were really trying to get the people engaged while they are here.”
The night began with students building their own cardboard homes.
After they were settled, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth communications relations manager Larry Lovelett spoke to the crowd about some of the common misconceptions about homeless teenagers.
“You won’t ever see teenagers living in boxes like this,” Lovelett said. “They try really hard not to draw attention to themselves.”
He told students that there are many young, homeless people living in the area surrounding the UNLV campus.
“Maryland Parkway is a corridor for these teens,” he said. “You probably pass one every day and don’t realize it. They look like everybody else.”
Rebel Service Council member Bea Martinez agreed with Lovelett’s sentiment.
“What are homeless people supposed to look like? How are they supposed to dress? Who are the faces of the homeless? People are starting to realize that there is no norm,” she said.
Many Shanty Town participants complained of the freezing weather as temperatures dropped to the low 50 degrees.
“I really wanted to get the perspective to see how [the homeless] do it,” senior Adrian Gomez said.
There was a new element of the activity this year to keep students active through the duration of the night. Each participant was given a card to wear around their neck. As a role-playing game, the student was to play the part that was on the card. Gender, age and situations were specified on each card.
One card detailed the situation of a 27-year-old male that had been kicked out by his parents because they didn’t approve of his sexual orientation.
“It’s another way to keep everyone engaged. [It's] also to show that homelessness has no prejudices,” Martinez said.
There was also a film presentation at midnight. The film was produced by RSC member Erica Chan.
Students left as the night wore on and conditions became increasingly more difficult to handle, but Ayala said he did not consider the night a failure.
“The point is to understand what homeless people go through. It’s not realistic for students to stop their lives to participate in this. A lot of us have class or work to go to, and with all the educational components provided, I think they got it,” he said.
“It’s not just sitting on the grass for the night.”
Organizers awarded participants that made it through the morning with bagels and hot beverages while students discussed what they gained from the experience.
Lovelett said he hopes events like this will continue to grow and support awareness of the homelessness issue.
“Our ultimate goal is to give every homeless child a home and hope,” he said, “to give each child a chance to grow up to survive and thrive.”