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Habitat Inhabits Marsh Plaza

An overnight to dramatize the need for better housing


Watch the slide show above to hear Zach Horowitz (SMG’10), president of BU’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, talk about last April’s Sleepout.

The ways Boston University students reach into the community around us are an ongoing source of fascination — and good journalism. These connections and collaborations might at first glance seem to be one-way streets, but as each of the stories from the past school year we’re highlighting this week reveals, give and take, offering and receiving, are intimately linked.

If you strolled past Marsh Plaza the nights of April 23 and 24 and were alarmed by the sight of 30 students sleeping in boxes, rest assured: the economy had not yet forced them into the streets.

But the recession did motivate the BU chapter of Habitat for Humanity to do something for those who sleep in the streets regularly. The April Sleepout was both a fundraiser to help improve local housing conditions and, more important, an awareness-raiser on issues of housing and homelessness.

“The idea is for people to see us. It makes them think about the shelter they have and of other people who are less fortunate,” said Zachary Horowitz (SMG’10) on the eve of the event.

While the connection to homelessness is obvious, Mary Kowal (CAS’10) says the event aimed to make people aware of substandard housing as well as of homelessness. “That’s what the boxes represent,” she says. “Imagine that you have a house and your electricity gets cut off. What we are doing is similar to going a night with the discomfort of not having heat.”

Each participant was encouraged to raise $100 by asking passersby for whatever they could spare. They managed a total of $2,900. The money will go toward a longer-term goal — rehabbing a unit on Dacia Street in Dorchester, an area where 15 houses have been foreclosed within a three-block radius. The group hopes to raise the $50,000 by this summer and start work in the fall.

But it wasn’t all drudgery and discomfort for those camped on Marsh Plaza. Sleepout participants enjoyed performances from a juggling group, salsa lessons, and popsicle-stick and Lego construction contests. “The biggest surprise to everyone is how much fun people actually have,” says Horowitz. “But the reality is after two nights out there, we can go home and take a nap.

“Not everyone is that lucky.”

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

This story originally ran April 29, 2009.

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