Creature comforts were at a minimum for 20 to 30 students at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines on Tuesday night as the group camped out in the campus courtyard in handmade shanties. The group braved the chilly weather and hard concrete in cardboard boxes and tents to increase awareness about homelessness and to raise funds for Oakton’s student-run chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
Sahil Pruthi, treasurer for the group and co-project manager for the event, said the purpose of the second annual Shantytown project was to advocate and educate on the issue of homelessness. , according to a press release from Oakton Community College.
“People don’t know, they just go around, they just don’t see it, they see people living on the streets and they just kind of ignore it,” Pruthi said. “But students here actually get to see it. Some of them get to spend the night and they actually realize how conditions are, what they might be able to do to change that.”
Members of Oakton’s Habitat for Humanity chapter travel to different locations during the winter and spring to build housing for the national organization, Pruthi said, and 24 students went to Starkville, MS in the spring this year. The Shantytown event raises a modest amount toward such trips.
Visitors to Shantytown, which involved more than 30 student organizations according to Oakton’s press release, could vote for their favorite shanty by making a donation in tin in front of it, and students purchased hot chocolate and apple cider for donations. Last year they raised about $1,000, Pruthi said.
Pruthi, a finance major, is enrolled in his final class at Oakton, and is currently attending the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said he hoped the Shantytown event inspired more students to become involved with the issue and Oakton’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, which currently has approximately 50 members.
“I hope more volunteers will come because I am leaving,” Pruthi said. “I want somebody else to step up and do what I did, be as involved as I was.”
Pruthi said he first became active in the student organization, in part, because he liked a quote he heard at his church from Gandhi: Be the change you want to see in the world.
“Chicago winters are terrible, and I just wanted to do something to help out as much as I could,” Pruthi said.