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Students Build Cardboard Village: A Glimpse into Homelessness

September 29, 2008
By: WSU News

More than 550 pounds of food was donated to the Worcester County Food bank, over $200 in cash/gift cards will be donated to Central Mass Housing Alliance “Homeless Prevention Fund”, Abby’s House and Jeremiah’s Inn, and more than 60 coats will be donated to Abby’s House and Jeremiah’s Inn following a Worcester State College Nursing student event last Thursday.

Students and faculty erected a “cardboard village” on the campus in front of the Student Center to raise awareness of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in the community. Maryellen Brisbois suggested the idea to students because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts plans to attack homelessness by focusing on the access community nurses have to both resources and patients who are homeless.

Students began setting up cardboard boxes wrapped in duct tape and sheets of plastic in anticipation of the coming rain storm and hunkered down for the night.

Katie Dufresne, a senior said that although her immediate plan was ”to get through the night,” she knew the experience would teach her what it must be like to be homeless, at least for the night. Michele Hancock, also a senior, said, “I am doing this because a lot of people you see in the community are people without health insurance or they are poor.” Senior Kaitlin O’Donnell agreed. “People come from all different backgrounds. You never know where they came from, or where they are going next.”

Students decorated their cardboard boxes with a wide variety of facts and thoughts on homelessness including these from Senior Elyse Lavin;  The average age of a homeless person is 10 and more than 1,000 families in Massachusetts live in shelters

Students were allowed only one blanket (no pillow), one canned food item for the evening and one item to assist them (i.e. flashlight).

Students decorated their boxes with statistics/facts/solutions related to homelessness and homeless populations which could include the following:

  • There is an estimated homeless population of 2,000 in Worcester. (Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Program)
  • Approximately 10,000 young children (0-5 years) will experience homelessness in Massachusetts this year. (UMASS Boston, McCormack Institute, Report 2000, Meeting the Housing Needs of Lower Income Massachusetts Residents)
  • Nationally, approximately 500,000 children aged 0-5 years are homeless in a year. (Urban Institute, 2000)
  • Today, there are over 1,000 families in shelter in Massachusetts. (Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance)
  • Compared to low-income housed children, homeless children experience more health problems, developmental delays, increased anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and lower educational achievement. (National Center on Family Homelessness)
  • Massachusetts is determined to eliminate homelessness with the help of registered nurses within the next five years. By realizing that stable housing is part of a person’s overall health, nurses are able to be involved in the assessment of the individual and to determine which housing option is best suited for a referred individual in addition to helping to coordinate medical care.

The Student Nurses’ Association coat drive will continue into October for anyone interested in contributing. To make a donation, please drop by the Department of Nursing (Ghosh Center – Room 222).  In addition, you may write a check to Abby’s House, Jeremiah’s Inn, or Central Mass Housing Alliance c/o Maryellen Brisbois (Ghosh Center – Room 222L), 486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602.

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