‘Cold, uncomfortable, restless’

Social work students dedicate senior project to helping homeless, raising awareness


Alyssa Smith

Seth Kidwell, a sophomore social work major, nestles into his newly constructed box home for the night Saturday outside of UC East. Kidwell was among 20 others who participated in Box Out of Boxville, an event organized to spread homelessness awareness by having students sleep in boxes overnight.

About 20 students ditched their warm beds Saturday night to sleep in boxes on campus.

Eleven made it all 12 hours, surviving the cold. It was 43 degrees at 9 p.m. The low was expected to reach 37, which is not the kind of weather the students were expecting for the first day of spring.

But the students — some from the social work program and some from the Student Housing Association — didn’t let the cold and rain stop them. They were determined to experience homelessness for one night. So from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday morning, they did just that.

“The weather plays a huge role,” said Ericka Smith, a senior social work major. “People were like, ‘What if it rains or snows?’ Well, homeless people don’t get to pick what weather they’re homeless in.”

Smith, along with fellow senior social work major Jenna Kruse, organized the event, dubbed Box Out of Boxville, as part of their senior project. They wanted to raise awareness about homelessness, but also help the community out.

Social work students immerse themselves

Smith and Kruse raised $450 from local businesses and family and collected toiletries from local hospitals, hotels and the USI Dental Hygiene Clinic. They used the money and supplies to fill bags with hygiene products, such as soap, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, all of which was donated to Aurora Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides services to the homeless and raises awareness about the issue in Evansville.

“We watched this documentary on this man who went into an assisted living facility and stayed there for a month to see how it affected him,” Kruse said. “We felt like we were too comfortable with the gerontology community to do that, so we decided to focus on the issue of homelessness.”

Their first idea was to spend the night at a local shelter, but there were safety concerns, she said.

“It would be like us intruding,” Kruse said. “We were concerned it would make them uncomfortable. This is a population that has experienced a lot of trauma. So for some of them, (these shelters are) their only safe place.”

Smith said there are a limited number of beds in the shelters and they didn’t want to take beds away from those who might actually need them.

So they chose to do it on campus instead.

“It’s hard for college students to really experience what it’s like because they all have their smart phones and stuff,” Smith said.

Neither Smith nor Kruse were planning to use their phones during the event, they said.

The goal for these girls is to completely immerse themselves in underserved populations, they said. They’ve also spent the past two spring break’s volunteering at orphanages in Jamaica as part of the Global Social Work course.

“It gives us a better understanding of what it’s really like,” Kruse said.

Kruse said Sunday afternoon she did get some sleep Saturday night, but she was one of the only ones.

“Many of the others said they were too cold, uncomfortable and restless to sleep,” she said. “Many of us could not stay warm despite the blankets that we had. It just shows how even more difficult (the homeless) have it when it is colder and they may not even have a blanket or a box to sleep on.”

SHA provided food and drinks for the event — chicken noodle soup, tomato soup and water.

On the fly

Dressed in sweatpants and hoodies and wrapped in blankets, students built their “homes” from boxes donated by SHA.

Four SHA members set up shop between the Free Speech Zone and the University Center. They broke down boxes and once they were flat, taped them together. The first concoction made a pallet to fit all four. The second made a big enough piece to place across them.

“For me, it’s important that I not be exposed,” SHA President Danesha Shelton said as she taped together flattened boxes. “If people are coming at me — not that they would, but if they did — I can see what’s in front of me.”

Everything they did was on the fly.

“Right now, there is no method,” Shelton said. “We’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to keep them together so they don’t fly away.”

Sarah Hackler is a member of SHA, but not part of the social work program. She’s studying chemistry.

“It was optional,” Hackler said about participating. “But I thought it was a really good idea to experience it and get out of your comfort zone.”

She volunteers in Bedford, her hometown, but hasn’t done much volunteer work at the university. This was a first for her. She chose chemistry as a major because she’s good at it, the sophomore said.

“I’ve always been interested in science,” Hackler said. “I’m hoping someday it can go toward helping people.”

‘We’re proud of her’

Smith’s parents and sister surprised her Saturday night. As they entered the amphitheater, she ran to hug them.

Rob, Mary Ann and Claire Smith drove three hours from Greensburg to witness Smith’s hard work firsthand.

“That’s dedication,” Smith’s mom Mary Ann joked about making the drive. “Or stupidity.”

They’ve known about the project since December, they said, but didn’t know if they would be able to make it until a few days before. Luckily, they were all on spring break. Rob is the principal of an elementary school and Mary Ann is a teacher.

“We also live on a farm, so we had to make arrangements to have someone care for our livestock and stuff before we came down here,” Rob said.

The reason they made the trip was simple — they wanted to support Smith’s senior project.

“We’re proud of her for taking on this issue and supporting (the homeless) with the supplies and kits,” Mary Ann said.

They weren’t expecting the cold either, and they didn’t participate in the event with their daughter.

“We’ll support her with a warm breakfast in the morning,” Mary Ann said.

The rest of the family laughed.

“We’re proud of her,” Rob said.

“She’s a very caring individual,” her sister Claire chimed in.


Aurora Inc. accepts monetary and supply donations. Visit www.auroraevansville.org or call 812-428-3246 to make a donation, or drop off supplies at 1100 Lincoln Avenue.