By Michael Buhler
For the second year in a row, several Cheney Middle School students got to experience for one night what it is like to be homeless.
Approximately 40 CMS students took cardboard boxes and duct tape and turned them into places to sleep last Friday night at the Cheney football practice field. While a rainstorm drove the students into the transportation building later that night, the doors to the building were left open and the kids still were able to sleep in their boxes.
“It gives you a whole new perspective on things,” CMS student Jordan Block said. “It makes you feel so bad that the homeless have to do this every single day – even in winter when its cold and snowing.”
The students also collected donations for their efforts, and as of Monday afternoon, they had raised $4,338 – surpassing their goal of $4,000 – and plan to donate one-third of the money to the Cheney Emergency Fund.
“What I want them to understand is that, No. 1, if they’re fortunate enough that they can give back, they ought to give back – whether it’s time or money or even prayer,” CMS instructor and event coordinator Jim Gillett said. “I want them to feel afraid not to try. It doesn’t take one person making all the difference in the world – it takes every person doing a little bit, and that all adds up tremendously.”
Students who participated in the event had to make do on limited resources, just like homeless people do in real life.
“We sleep in cardboard boxes during the night, and at dinner we only have a certain amount of food and stuff like that,” CMS student Aaron Mounts said. “We do activities and we only have a certain amount of stuff for that. Last year, Mr. Gillett provided stuff for us, but this year, we had to bring our own things. You couldn’t just go out and buy a bunch of stuff – you had to use what you already had or you had to find something.”
What is amazing is that the problem of homelessness is so common and so hard to see sometimes.
“We had a speaker that came and talked to our group last Monday morning, and they specifically help youths 13 to 21 years old,” Gillett said. “ She shared with us that the teens she helps look exactly like these teens. You cannot tell the difference between which teens come from a house and which ones don’t. They will bunk with friends and they will go from house to house and say things like, ‘Hey, can you let me sleep in the backyard shed this week?’ You would not notice.
“She said their bookbags are a lot fuller than most kids because they’re bringing about everything they own with them. There are people that will throw bricks through windows just so they can be picked up by the police and have a night in a decent bed, even if it is in jail, and a decent meal.”
Spending the night in a cardboard box definitely gave the students a new view of what it is like to not have a roof over one’s head.
“Sometimes like this evening, it can be really bad outside,” Mounts, who has participated in the event both years, said. “It gives you a new understanding on things.”