Poverty is death
Observer Viewpoint | Friday, April 8, 2005
I am opposed to Shack City 2005 sponsored by ND Habitat for Humanity. According to Habitat’s Web site, the purpose of Shack City is to raise awareness and funds for substandard housing by putting students in an environment where they will be compelled to consider the plight of those in substandard housing. At the same time, they want to create an enjoyable event by creating community and providing entertainment – live bands, games and a marshmallow roast.
In the words of the organizer in last year’s Observer article about Shack City, “This event is a way to protest the thinking that we can ignore [homelessness] in our daily life,” Iafigliola said.
I agree we ignore substandard housing and poverty in our daily lives, and I applaud Habitat’s efforts to raise awareness of and funds for the poor. However, I do not agree that sleeping in cardboard boxes, listening to live bands and roasting marshmallows is the best moral option.
As a disclaimer, I do not believe that Habitat has any intention of denying dignity to the poor. Shack City, nevertheless, sends signals to the homeless community that college students think it would be fun to sleep in a cardboard box with their friends.
My strongest objection to Shack City is that the imitation of material poverty is never good. According to theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, material poverty means premature and unjust death. It is never to be imitated or romanticized which is what Shack City does on some level. A vow of poverty or a commitment to solidarity with the poor is completely different than imitation. Solidarity means sharing and is put into action by sharing: forgiving foreign debts, distributing excess wealth and allowing the marginalized into our consciousness, etc.
If awareness and funds are the goal, we should adopt an attitude of solidarity not imitation. Attend campus lectures on social issues. Work at the Habitat house. Donate some money you would otherwise spend on iTunes or Jimmy John’s or a night out. Visit the Center for the Homeless. Poverty is death, not roasting marshmallows in a cardboard box.