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McNicholas students learn about homelessness through Shantytown

  • Seniors set up overnight accommodations in boxes.
  • After using only $1 to purchase dinner and breakfast, students learned more about homelessness.
  • An exercise called The Web illustrated how homelessness isn't the result of one event, but rather the result of a number of circumstances.
  • Melissa Moseby joined students to tell her story of being without a home.
  • Rockets formed a cardboard brigade to meet students arriving for school Friday morning.
  • Students were surprised to learn that the average age of homelessness in Cincinnati was ages 9-10.

Forty McNicholas High School senior students and four chaperones participated in Shantytown on Thurs., Nov. 17 at the school. Shantytown is an educational program where students are encouraged to sleep outside overnight at their school to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness. Sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, the event is not designed to be a simulation of homelessness but rather a shocking form of action that is designed to get students asking questions about homelessness and teaching others.

McNicholas has done a Shantytown project for many years, and this year’s night included speakers from the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and the Mayerson Foundation.

Dr. Mark Mussman of the Coalition joined Melissa Moseby who shared her story of homelessness. According to McNicholas theology teacher and chaperone Teresa Davis, Melissa shared her story and spoke of the worst thing she lost when she was on the street - her dignity.  

“Those who gave her hope and helped her out of her situation of no home were those who would look her in the eye, use her name, treat her as a worthy human being,” Davis said.  “She asked us all, always, if you encounter a person on the street, don't look away but look at them as your fellow human being with a name, a family, a story.”

Clare Blankemeyer from the Mayerson Foundation also joined the group in an activity entitled The Web.   “We gathered in a large circle and one large ball of yarn was passed from person to person as the true story of someone was told,” Davis said. “The end result was a web of circumstances, not just one event, which brought the person to experience homelessness.  Events such as a car that needed repair, healthcare costs, cutback in job hours, etc.    Then we had to unwind the yarn from the web to restore the person.   This was not easily accomplished.”

McNicholas seniors Atticus Block and Abby Conatser gave a quiz on the statistics of homelessness in Cincinnati and the United States.   “Most of the students were surprised to learn that Cincinnati is second in the nation with the highest incidence of childhood poverty,” Davis said. “The average age of homelessness is 9-10.”

The forty students who spent the night in a boxes then used the cardboard to write messages to their fellow students and formed a brigade to meet all McNicholas students arriving for school Friday morning.  Signs read:

“We are all human. We all deserve respect.”

“My situation doesn’t define me.”

“Acknowledge everyone. Look at the person, not the situation.”

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