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Millikin’s Annual Box City

Photo+by%3A+James+Bowling
Photo by: James Bowling

Photo by: James Bowling

Photo by: James Bowling

Bayleigh Williams, Writer

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When did it get so cold? I wondered this as I curled up in the fetal position with nothing but a thin blanket and the clothes on my back to keep me warm. I was attempting to rest in the cardboard home I built for myself on the Miller Quad, along with other participants.
Millikin’s Human Service Connection puts on this Box City event every year in celebration of National Hunger and Homelessness Week. HHWeek starts Nov. 12 and ends Nov. 20. This year’s Box City was on Friday, Nov. 11 from 5:00 P.M. to 10:00 A.M. Saturday. HSC wanted to use this experience as a kick-off for HHWeek.
Around Friday evening, Senior Human Services major Brian Wilhelm read statistics from Macon County’s 2016 Point-in-Time Survey of the homeless population. According to the survey, the homeless population has decreased since 2014. Starting with a whopping 255 homeless individuals, to 238 in 2015, to only 157 this year.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the many resources for the homeless, such as the Salvation Army, Dove, Inc., and Jacob’s Well: House of Hope. Box City participant and New Vision Urban Ministries member Katie Bohland has very strong feelings about these resources. “This has just always been my concern for the city is because there are very few emergency shelters, especially for women and children,” Bohland said. “If it’s later in the day, there’s literally no place for them to go.”
Former homeless individual Angel Nieves is just one of the many people of the Macon County area who has benefited from these services.
“I had nothing when I went to stay at the Salvation Army. Now I have a home, a daughter, and a son, and a whole life,” Nieves said.
Nieves spoke to the participants of Box City on Saturday morning about his story before breakfast was served. Since he mentioned that he was originally from New York, I asked him what brought him to Decatur. He told me that he got caught up in something in Bloomington, IL that got him imprisoned. Then, he was put on parole in the Decatur area and nowhere to go.
Even though the common assumption is that homeless individuals caused their own living situation, it’s usually due to something else outside of their control, like mental health or abusive homes. It makes it even more personal when you imagine that children are also homeless.
On hhweek.org, the organization has a page of startling statistics about the homeless population in the U.S. and in the world. For instance, “1 in 5 children in the U.S. live in poverty.” This means that in a room full of 100 children, 20 of them are impoverished.
Before the Box City participants went inside the Salvation Army, there was a dramatization of the homeless outside their building. Most people were drawn to either the man with the dog or the two kids. Clearly, people are more emotionally drawn to the helpless–kids and animals.
But, here’s the real hitter: in the entire world, hhweek.org said, “6 children die each minute of a hunger-related disease.”
The fact that there are that many children suffering along with adults just goes to show that not every homeless individual can help their situation. Box City opened my eyes to a whole new world of desperation. As I shivered by a burn barrel with some friends under a blanket on some cardboard, I was made aware of just how vulnerable a person is without a warm bed and roof over their head.
Senior Vocal Music Education major George Rushing II participated in Box City two years ago when it was too cold to have it outside. This year was a much different experience for him, but the message between the two experiences he had remained the same.
“For one moment you get a little glimpse into how other people have to live. It may be real cold outside, but what warms me is the support and fellowship amongst all of us,” Rushing said.
Want to learn more about HHWeek and what you can do to help? Visit hhweek.org for more information.

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Millikin’s Annual Box City