The shacks in the pop-up neighborhood on the Quad last week may have attracted attention with wild decorations, but the small homes represented a much bleaker reality — 33.6 percent of Syracuse residents lived below the poverty level between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For three days and two nights, some Syracuse University students emphasized with those living that statistic by participating in Shack-A-Thon, an annual project organized by Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Shack-A-Thon’s goal for the past seven years has been to raise a large sum of money to donate toward a home construction on the Near Westside. This year’s goal, which is still being calculated, was $6,000.
In an effort to hit this goal, 16 campus organizations showed up on the Quad Wednesday afternoon to build the wooden shacks. The students — blanket and pillow in hand — then lived in each shack until Friday.
When I first arrived Thursday evening, my objective was to connect with an organization and observe first-hand how the participants weathered the night. My first stop was the Habitat for Humanity house located right in the middle of all the shacks. In the makeshift home, two members were doing biology homework with three of their friends. I asked the friends why they chose to stay out in the cold rather than in their rooms.
“Because this is just the coolest thing,” said freshman Kay La without missing a beat.
Biology freshman Alexa Anastasio said she didn’t know about the event until recently. Once she found out what it entailed, she said, didn’t want to miss out.
“I didn’t even know Syracuse had a chapter for Habitat,” Anastasio said. She mentioned her dad has worked with Habitat for Humanity in his profession. “I was always sort of brought up with being a part of the group.”
Caroline Hernandez, also a biology freshman, said she thought the event really helps raise awareness for those on campus who don’t know what it’s like. Hernandez also sympathizes with Shack-A-Thon-ers who’ll have to share a small space with multiple people.
“Some shacks only have one person staying the night, but others have three or four people in there,” she said. “That’s crazy.”
As shifts rotated and a new group of students arrived, I went a little ways down the path between the shacks to observe another group settling in for the night. The atmosphere had definitely changed: Night lights lit up the path, blankets covered those leaning on the grass outside their homes, and bright computer lights lit up the faces of the shack-ers inside. Students were getting ready for the night.
Over at the Alpha Phi Omega shack, John Pang, a member and biology senior, said he’s slept overnight for two Shack-a-Thons. “This year is a lot warmer than last year. And thankfully we’re able to bring blankets and cover the windows with plastic if it gets too windy.”
Later in the evening, Pang said, he would run back to his apartment to get his pajamas and pillow to get him through the night. Having participated in the event in some way for three years, Pang said this will be one of the most memorable experiences from his college career.
“It just opens your eyes more. Don’t take things for granted. You have a bed, but think of other people who have to sleep on the floor,” he said. “They might not even have a roof over their head. We have a small roof, but at least it’s something. They don’t get anything.”