FHSU students spend the night in shacks to learn about homelessness

From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 17, a Fort Hays State University Leadership 310 team hosted Shack City in the FHSU quad to raise awareness about poverty and homelessness.

Team members


Austin Knoll, Hays sophomore


Dylan McKinney, Hays sophomore


Jesus Garcia, Salina sophomore


Zeonnia Parrish, Aurora, Colo. senior


With the help of Brent Goertzen, associate professor of leadership studies, the students reviewed possible group projects in the first two weeks of school and made the decision to pursue the Shack City event, at which time they began planning.

“Not a lot of people know about poverty on a local level,” Parrish said.

Parrish’s mother was the director of a homeless shelter while she was growing up, and she wanted to help others to become aware of the impact poverty can have on a life, according to Parrish.

“Circumstances have a lot to do with it,” Garcia said about homelessness, who has done some volunteer work with the homeless.

Shack City consisted of student teams who signed up for to build a shack of cardboard and other materials and spend the night in it. The fee for the event was $20. The teams were given a meal of beans and rice for their dinner. There were 39 total participants, and $140 was raised, according to Knoll.

The shacks were built from 5 to 7 p.m. and teams competed to see who could build the best one. McKinney and Knoll were the judges of the shacks. The first-place shack was the work of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.
Winners received prizes donated by the local sponsors of the event, which included Walmart, Stage, Subway, Thirsty’s, Sears, Mokas, McDonald’s, Global Leadership Project, Dillon’s, Jimmy John’s, Impressions Everlasting and the Department of Leadership Studies. In addition to sleeping in the shack that they built, student participants also could participate in a scavenger hunt to win extra prizes.

The proceeds from the Shack City event are being donated to Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County. Leslie Goodspeed, Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County executive director, said that the money will be used for the organization’s Brush with Kindness program. This program provides a no-interest loan for low-income home owners to get needed repairs to their homes.

Habitat for Humanity has built three houses in Ellis County, two in the city of Hays and one in the city of Ellis. The recipients of a Habitat house must be able to make a down payment and continue to make recurring payments on their new home, according to Goodspeed.

Habitat for Humanity homes differ from regular housing because they are for those who fall below the income normally required for traditional mortgages. Recipients are also required to put in a certain amount of “sweat equity” into their own house or volunteer on another Habitat for Humanity home. “Sweat equity” is putting in labor to help construct a home, according to Goodspeed.

“Options are very limited for (the) homeless in Hays,” Goodspeed said, “Homeless individuals can contact police to call the Salvation Army and other organizations, but there is not a homeless shelter available for them in Hays.”

“It will be an awesome experience no matter how sleeping goes tonight,” said Korby Boswell, Onaga senior and Shack City participant. His group from the Leadership Studies Department gathered its building supplies from Ashley Furniture Homestore, 2702 Vine St., and Sears, 2706 Vine St., as well as a dumpster on Seventh St. The students used a plastic sheet, normally used as a drop cloth for painting a room, as their roof and used wood pallets for the walls of their shack.

This event shows that, “when we come together we can make something big,” said Gustavo Reyes, Garden City senior.

Another student team that met through the Horizons group acquired its construction materials from Doerflers’ Harley Davidson, 1100 E. 43rd St., because the company allowed the students to search through the trash and use its old cardboard. The group learned that it was difficult to make a shack, but the building process worked well with teamwork and communication.

After the judging commenced, speakers Tre Giles, Colorado Springs, Colo. senior, and Bob Fisher, Garden City senior, recounted their personal experiences with poverty.

Giles told of an evening he spent as a homeless man for a project he was working on. He said coming out of that night, he now knows how important it is to be willing to at least go and learn why someone is in that situation.

Fisher had previous experience with homelessness during his work as a missionary in the city of Denver, Colo., working with a group called Christ in the City.

“Dignity has been taken away from homeless people,” Fisher said.

He gave tips to the audience members on how to handle themselves when encountering a homeless person.

“Take them out for food or give them non-perishable food, ask them questions and listen. They need to know that they are still loved,” Fisher said.

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