Students spend 'homeless' night on town green

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Oct. 4, 2011
These Marianapolis Prep students spent the night together reflecting on what it meant and felt like to be homeless. Photos by Denise Coffey.
These Marianapolis Prep students spent the night together reflecting on what it meant and felt like to be homeless. Photos by Denise Coffey.

Thirty Tourtellotte Memorial High School and eight Marianapolis Preparatory School students camped out in cardboard boxes on the Thompson Green on Oct. 1, to bring attention to homelessness in the Quiet Corner. Their visible display called attention to a problem that is often out of sight and out of mind to most residents in the area. The students raised money to donate to the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group for its outreach work with the area's homeless.

Homelessness in northeastern Connecticut is not about people living in boxes, according to TEEG Community Program Manager Carl Asikainen. It's more about people living in their cars or moving from couch to couch at the homes of families and friends.

“We know that right now we have multiple families crammed into one household,” Asikainen said. These are the people that will never be counted in a homeless census, he said. And that is part of a larger problem. Definitions of homelessness don't take into account all the reasons a person or family might be homeless. Federal and state monies aren't always available to help those in need because people don't fall into those defined categories.

With the money raised from the event, TEEG will be able to respond to families at risk on a case-by-case basis, Asikainen said. Because it is private money, TEEG can use it in non-traditional ways. They have purchased bus tickets in the past to help someone travel to a shelter. They have used the funds to help pay a portion of rent or to buy heating fuel. They have put people up at campgrounds with shower facilities. “Just being able to take a shower is a big deal to someone who is homeless,” Asikainen said.

The student-driven event is in its seventh year. Students were required to raise $55 each for the privilege of sleeping overnight in a box. Marianapolis English and theology teacher Michelle Murphy said her group was able to contribute almost $500. Murphy teaches a morals and ethical dilemmas class.

“We talk about morality and what is right and wrong,” she said. “A lot of students here tonight are in that class. We talk about homelessness and what our moral responsibility is when it comes to those types of issues.”

Her eight students were huddled on a collection of flattened boxes, laughing and joking. A fire blazed from a fire pit across from the Thompson Congregational Church. The night was foggy, and temperatures were expected to go down into the 50s. “They're in the giggly phases now,” Murphy said. “Come 2 or 3 in the morning, they're going to start realizing what it’s like to be without shelter. I hope they get a new appreciation for what it’s like to be homeless.”

Tourtellotte science teacher and National Honor Society advisor Marcia Sokolowski said that Thompson students had collected $1,600. “The money we raise tonight might help someone in an emergency,” she said.

All funds raised will go to TEEG to be used explicitly for homelessness relief. Asikainen, who grew up in Pomfret and attended Woodstock Academy, said that it's easy to think homelessness doesn't happen in the area. “Well, it does,” he said. “Homelessness happens. Whether it happens the way we think it should isn't the question. It goes on, and we have to be prepared for it.”


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