Shedding a light on the daily challenges the homeless population living in the city are faced with, a group of Pennsylvania College of Technology students traded in their dorm rooms and beds for a cardboard box Friday night.
As part of an assignment in Rob Cooley's Service Learning in Sociology course, which required students to identify an issue within the community and create a response to it, students lined up their makeshift sleeping quarters for the night in front of the county courthouse along Third Street.
"The goal of this is to raise awareness for the huge but invisible problem of homelessness," Cooley said.
Students and volunteers spent the evening making a "box city" out of cardboard boxes, in which they then spent the night.
The group has been collecting canned goods, toiletries and clothing throughout the semester for Family Promise of Lycoming County Inc., who serves the homeless population in the county and which the students partnered with for the project. An online fundraiser organized by the students through Gofundme.com raised more than $600 for Family Promise.
Melissa Margle, director of Family Promise, said she was moved when the students approached her about the project as homelessness is a "huge" problem in the area. Although there is no way of knowing the exact number of those affected by it, Margle said 150 beds in area homeless shelters are regularly used.
"That's just what we know of," she added, when talking about the number of homeless individuals that cannot be counted.
Cooley noted that students already saw their message being spread as many in the community walking downtown stopped and asked questions. One passerby even sought out help for a homeless individual during the first few minutes of the event.
The students were not alone Friday night when building their cardboard box huts, as Stephen Kesig, who spent two years homeless, gave his time to help the cause.
Kesig said when he heard about the event, he wanted to stop by because he knew what it was like to be without a home. He added that for many living on the streets, finding employment or aide is difficult as they're required to supply a home address.
Kesig said "it's very good. Someone has to" advocate for the homeless, when asked his thoughts on the student project. He also brought clothing to donate to Family Promise.
Cooley said experiencing a small part of the homeless problem first-hand will allow students to better connect to the issue that they are raising awareness for.
"I think it just creates a greater impact," said Gretchen Chambers, a Penn College senior.
"Just that connection that, 'I did it for one night and there are people that are doing it for months at a time,' will bring so much awareness," she said.
The class will continue accepting donations through the end of the semester. Those wishing to donate can do so by connecting with the students through the event's Facebook page at facebook.com/StopHomelessnessPennCollegeHSStudents.