HabiFest raises poverty awareness

The College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity struck a blow against homelessness last Wednesday by holding its first annual HabiFest, an event featuring speakers as well as musical acts in Brower Student Center.

The nationwide student-initiated day of advocating for affordable housing, HabiFest is recognized on over 200 high school and college campuses and features events such as awareness walks and speaking engagements, like the one that took place at the College.

The event was attended by approximately 30 people and featured two keynote speakers, Shaneka Barnes, who is an associate of the Cherry Tree Preschool – a preschool for homeless children in the Mercer County Area – and Kim Suarez, who is the Fundraising and Volunteer Coordinator for East Trenton Habitat for Humanity and a graduate of the College.

The event was supposed to feature a third speaker, Eyvonda Queen, a Habitat for Humanity homeowner, but according to Laura Gianella, sophomore English and secondary education major and president of the College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, Queen was unable to attend due to personal reasons.

Barnes, the first speaker at the event, focused on the plight of single, uneducated mothers. She explained that although factors such as alcoholism and drug abuse do cause homelessness, most people are homeless because they are simply unable to make enough money to afford the cost of living.

“Most of the time it’s not their fault,” Barnes said.

She illustrated her point by playing a game in which a person was allotted $1,600, “a salary that you would get if you’re lucky,” Barnes said.

With $1,600 a person was supposed to provide housing, transportation, food, diapers, utilities, telephone service and medical care for themselves and three children.

The game showed that an attempt to do this successfully was impossible, and such situations caused an individual to fall deeper and deeper into debt every month. After a certain number of months, eviction would likely result.

“Most of the time they get kicked out and sent to a welfare motel,” Barnes said.

She further explained that poverty results in poor diets for children, as well as a deprivation of recreation and necessary amenities. Homeless children are deprived of luxuries, such as “simply brushing our teeth every morning,” Barnes said.

Suarez, the second speaker, focused on the goals and accomplishments of the East Trenton Habitat for Humanity.

“Since its founding in 1986, East Trenton Habitat for Humanity has built 59 homes,” Suarez said.

She explained the method used in providing people with homes, which involved “sweat equity,” a certain amount of time in which the family receiving the home was supposed to work in construction. After the sweat equity, the family was allowed to move into the home and would pay $500 a month over 20 years to Habitat for Humanity. Suarez explained that the $500 per month went to support future building projects.

The East Trenton Habitat for Humanity has clearly defined goals for its community.

“Our goal is to eliminate substandard housing in East Trenton by 2010,” Suarez said.

After the speaking segment, Frank Johnson, father of Lorraine Johnson, junior elementary education major and education chair for the College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, played bagpipes.

The event concluded with a performance by the rock group, Osier.

According to Gianella, there are about 40 active members of Habitat for Humanity at the College and the organization stays quite active.

“We have three more construction site visits this semester,” Gianella said. “One more working with a service organization in Trenton, our Hold’Em tournament, Communiversity in Princeton and a Summer Collegiate Challenge.

Nino Scarpati, advisor for Habitat for Humanity at the College, illustrated his pride in the organization’s activism.

“It’s civic leadership in action,” he said.