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Bringing It Home
To experience homelessness, try sleeping in a soggy box
By Rachel M. Collins '81

The rain fell hard and cold through the mid-November night, pelting a small cluster of cardboard shacks set up on the T-Hall lawn. Sometime between 2 and 4 a.m., Darah DalPra '10, wrapped in a blanket and wedged against the wall of a refrigerator box, felt the sting of icy drops as the cardboard gave way. DalPra and the students struggling to sleep in other boxes nearby would soon learn a lot about the misery of homelessness.

The students were participants in A Night Without a Home, sponsored by a new student club, Oxfam UNH. Like its national parent organization, the club seeks to create awareness of societal problems such as homelessness, as a first step toward solutions.

Co-president Jenny Cook '09 says club members hoped to draw attention to the plight of New Hampshire's 3,100 or so homeless people while injecting some fun into a serious event. The event started earlier that evening, when 35 students formed into teams and built and decorated box houses. The light mood turned somber as two speakers shared bleak truths about New Hampshire's homeless people. In the state, 20,000 residents are homeless at some point during any given year. In 2006, shelters provided temporary refuge to 6,435 individuals, but turned away 9,634 people for lack of space and other resources, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One speaker described meeting a homeless woman and shaking her hand. The woman began to cry because it had been so long since anyone had touched her skin without plastic gloves.

Later that night, near T-Hall, Student Body President Richard Drenkhahn's simulated experience of homelessness had turned uncomfortably real. After patching holes with duct tape, he finally abandoned his collapsing box and fled toward a warm bed around 6:30 a.m.

"It wasn't the best night to stay out, but I made a commitment and didn't want to break it," says Drenkhahn, a senior. "It makes you appreciate the things you have—like a roof over your head. It really energized me to look into the issue and do more."

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