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Shack City to highlight homelessness

Laura Vilim | Thursday, April 22, 2004

In an attempt to raise awareness about the nation’s struggle with homelessness and promote the achievements of Habitat for Humanity, Notre Dame students have organized a project called Shack City that will be held on South Quad today and Friday.

To simulate the abject poverty associated with homelessness, Shack City’s approximately 125 participants will spend tonight sleeping in boxes set up on South Quad. While the night’s primary focus is highlighting the hardships of homelessness, organizers Ryan Iafigliola and Colleen Mallahan have also chosen to include in the night’s events a church service in Lyons’ chapel, a presentation by a guest speaker and live music as a means of bringing students together for social as well as educational purposes.

“Thursday night is intended to help students experience homelessness like never before – both participants and those passing by,” Iafigliola said. “Whether personally lying in a box or simply passing by the vast number of them, we hope students will come to a greater understanding of the need and be moved to action.”

The idea to hold the first Shack City event on Notre Dame’s campus resulted from Iafigliola and Mallahan’s invitation to participate in the Shack City hosted by Valparaiso University’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. After seeing how successful the event was raising awareness and funds to combat homelessness, both students were motivated to bring the project to Notre Dame.

Iafigliola, who said he’s wanted to be involved in events such as this since high school, also jumped at the chance to challenge the way college students view homelessness. He said Shack City’s innovative methods for spreading its message make it a prime way of beginning this challenge.

“This event is a way to create awareness of substandard housing worldwide and protest the thinking that we can ignore it in our daily life,” Iafigliola said. “By sleeping in large boxes, we are able to create a visual that makes it hard for people to keep from thinking about it, at least for an instant.”

In addition to raising student awareness of homelessness, Shack City serves to emphasize viable options for alleviating the problem of homelessness. In fact, one of the primary purposes of the project is to raise money for and provide a better understanding of the accomplishments of Notre Dame’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, an organization whose work goes largely unnoticed among students.

“Notre Dame has been building Habitat houses for 10 years now, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of campus awareness about what Habitat stands for,” Mallahan said. “Shack City is a great way for Habitat to have its presence felt on campus by the many students who walk through South Quad every day.”

The Shack City event today and Friday is the first in a series of events that will serve to commemorate the works of Notre Dame’s Habitat for Humanity. Since its inception 10 years ago, the organization has completed 10 houses in the South Bend area for needy families, an achievement that was made possible by the generous donations of labor and funds from both alumni and current students.

Colin Dowdall, co-president of Notre Dame’s Habitat for Humanity, said that starting with the Shack City kick-off, this weekend is a way to show those of the Notre Dame family the positive affects Habitat for Humanity has had on campus and in the surrounding community.

“This weekend will give Habitat a chance to show how far it has come since its inception 10 years ago,” Dowdall said. “It gives us an opportunity as a club to show that we care about fighting homelessness, and everyone has contributed to ensure that families in the South Bend area have suitable housing.”

In addition to Shack City, Habitat for Humanity will also be hosting an alumni dinner to show its appreciation for the support of its generous donors. The weekend will culminate in the dedication of the 10th house, where the family will be presented with a Bible and a priest will perform a ceremony.

“Ten years ago, a couple students had a dream of reaching out into the South Bend community and making a difference,” Dowdall said. “As evidenced by the number of people signed up to participate in Shack City, people on campus have shown that they understand the goals of our club.”