By DENISE SEYFER
On Friday, Oct. 26, in the frigid night air, about 17 Mount Mary students and staff members bundled in layers of clothes, hats and gloves and slept in cardboard boxes as a demonstration and fundraiser for the homeless.
Their goal was to learn about the hardships of homelessness and to raise awareness and money for Repairers of the Breach homeless shelter, Milwaukee’s only daytime shelter and resource for the homeless, which services up to 130 to 150 members each day.
This event was coordinated and facilitated by Mount Mary Campus Ministry in order to teach the students about the struggles of the homeless and to boost interest in Mount Mary’s Campus Ministry program and its mission.
With emphasis put on Mount Mary’s social justice mission, Campus Ministry focused on two key themes for this event: “solidarity,” which means valuing our fellow human beings, and “the option of the poor and vulnerable,” which means giving preferential treatment to those with greatest need, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The students raised more than $500 through sponsorships. Hayley Robinson’s efforts raised $200 alone.
“The minimum they [the participants] could ask for was 50 cents…I wanted them [the students] to do a little more than sleep in a box. I wanted them to talk about it [homelessness]. But it’s a way students can sponsor other students…almost everybody can give 50 cents,” said Lea Rosenberg, director of Campus Ministry.
These “homeless” students participated in structured activities from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. geared around teaching about the hardships homeless people face, such as braving not only the weather conditions, but also struggling to rent or purchase a home.
“Everyone is commenting to me this week saying, ‘Oh you should have done this a couple nights ago when it was 60, 70 degrees at night.’…A part of me thinks this [sleeping when it’s cold] is better because it’s going to give them a sense of what it’s really like for these people in the wintertime,” Rosenberg said. “Where else do they have to go?”
Students learned about the statistics of homelessness and shared stories about some of the members of Repairers of the Breach, a shelter officially supported by Mount Mary.
Students participated in a housing simulation program with assigned roles to play. Seven adults played administrators of different kinds of housing options, such as a lease agent for an apartment complex; a real estate agent for a home builder; and screeners for a government housing project, a rescue mission for men, a women’s shelter and Housing and Urban Development. The “applicants’” objective was to try and qualify for several housing options. Through this activity the students developed a sense of how difficult it is to qualify for housing.
“Some of the shelters have requirements you [the homeless persons] have to meet in order to be able to go to these shelters,” Rosenberg said. “One of the things I noticed looking into it is you have to be 18 years old or older. If you aren’t 18 and aren’t living with your parents, where do you go?”
According to Sister Joan Penzenstadler, the simulated apartment leaser, she turned away everyone who came to her luxury apartment complex. Those that could afford to rent must make over $16,000 per year; hardly anyone did.
One example of someone who did make enough money was a woman who worked as a bus driver. She made $20,000 per year but had extensive medical expenses due her son who is being treated for leukemia. She did not have health insurance. Further, she had bad credit history.
Students had mixed reactions about what they learned from this demonstration. Some students just wanted to snuggle with others, while most wanted to understand the difficulties homeless people endure.
“This is going to teach me to be humble because we live in the dorms [at Mount Mary] and we have all the electronics. We don’t really know how lucky we are,” said Hayley Robinson, an English literature and history major.