‘Shantytown’ held on Quad

By Mary Zemaitis

Members of Habitat for Humanity withstood the cold rain Monday night to hold “Shantytown,” an event designed to raise awareness about homelessness, from 5 p.m. to midnight on the Quad.

The group set up tents and built shanties and shacks, to recreate conditions of the homeless, out of wooden crates. Habitat held a food drive for the Center for Women in Transition, which offers support and transitional housing for women, said Sara Gibbs, sophomore in LAS and committee member for Shantytown.

Members and passersby made decorative turkeys out of pinecones at a craft table to give to the Salvation Army for their Thanksgiving dinner. Shantytown offered free hot chocolate and soup, donated by the University residence halls, and Panera Bread donated free bagels, said Stacie Waimberk, sophomore in Business and Shantytown committee member.

“From this event, we hope people will know that they have it so good,” said Waimberk. “We want to remind people to be thankful for what they have.”

The event featured two guest speakers. The first, Richie Drennan, a Champaign man, shared his experiences with homelessness and the Salvation Army. He said his alcoholism caused his homelessness. After he realized he had hit rock bottom with his addiction, he sought out rehabilitation and involved himself in Alcoholics Anonymous and the Salvation Army. He has been sober for 14 months, and showed the crowd the brass coin Alcoholics Anonymous gave him after a year of sobriety.

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    “Wanting to help yourself is what it really comes down to,” Drennan said in his speech.

    Kathy Sims, executive director for the Center for Women in Transition, followed Drennan. She spoke about the need for housing for the homeless and the funding cuts homeless housing programs are facing. She said after a significant budget cut, the center faced the possibility of closing their two houses at the time and ending plans for building a third house.

    “It was amazing how much the community came forth and helped,” Sims said

    The center was able to build their third house because of community donations and support.

    Sims said our society has to keep in mind “the need to make sure these opportunities always exist for people.”

    The audience applauded both speakers.

    “(Drennan) was really down to earth,” said Alka Gupta, junior in LAS. “It was humbling to hear him talk about his homelessness and admitting his problem.”

    Shantytown is normally earlier in the year, but Habitat moved it back to incorporate the event with Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, Gibbs said. It normally lasts all night, but the group was not sure the weather would work with the original format.

    Bo Li, junior in Engineering and education advocacy director for Habitat for Humanity, was optimistic about the rain.

    “It’s real, and it’s what the homeless have to go through,” he said. “They have to deal with it, so we can deal with it as well.”