“Homelessness could never happen to me.”
That’s one misconception that a tour through the Cardboard House hopes to shatter.
On display at the Welland Campus from March 21 to 23, the Cardboard House is an initiative from YWCA Niagara Region that aims to raise awareness about the growing problem of homelessness in Niagara, as well as about issues such as poverty and at-risk youth.
The 24 x 16- foot cardboard house made its first appearance at the Welland Campus in April 2016. The initiative was led by student Allison Pillwein, who is currently enrolled in the Social Service Worker program and is an ambassador for the YWCA Niagara Region. An advocate for community change, and for raising awareness about poverty and homelessness, she was instrumental in bringing the Cardboard House to the College for two consecutive years.
Pillwein felt it was important to continue raising visibility and awareness of poverty in the Niagara region by bringing the display back to the College. She noted that many are unaware of the scale of the issues of homelessness in the region, and that she regular encounters those who lack understanding about circumstances causing poverty and homelessness.
“I think that in order for change to really start to happen in our community, we must recognize that no one chooses poverty or homelessness, and that no one is completely immune from experiencing it,” she said. “Niagara College students play a role in building a bigger and brighter future for Niagara, and showcasing the house to them has great potential to creating positive change for our future simply by acting as an educational tool.”
Those who visit the Cardboard House are taken through the misconceptions, realities and solutions to homelessness in Niagara, and are challenged to recognize that homelessness could happen to anyone.
“Inside contains statistics and quotes on the walls regarding this material,” said Jennifer Siman, director of Goodwill (Welland Campus) for the Niagara College Student Administrative Council, which helped coordinate the Cardboard House’s return to the College. “There are also interactive stations such as photo frames students can flip up to read about families, mirrors students can look at to ‘picture themselves,’ and a chalk wall students can leave a message on.”
Pillwein said she hopes that the Cardboard House will encourage the college community to reflect on their own conceptions of homelessness, and to learn about what is happening currently in their community.
“I hope that those who visit the house will be inspired to learn more about these issues, and to start making a change in their lives that will help contribute to making our community more safe and compassionate,” she said.
The YWCA Niagara Region’s Cardboard House has made its way across Niagara since its first appearance in 2013. The purpose of the Cardboard House is to act as an educational piece to raise awareness about the growing problem of homelessness in Niagara. Representives from the YWCA noted that they are thankful to have the Cardboard House at Niagara College and for the opportunity to give students a chance to recognize challenges women and their families face throughout the region.
“It is our hope that by creating this opportunity for students to increase their understanding of the issues of poverty and homelessness they will use it to advocate for social and systems changes that will improve the lives of people in the communities that they live in,” said Elisabeth Zimmermann, executive director of YWCA Niagara.
The Cardboard house will be located in the foyer of the Applied Health Institute until Thursday, March 23. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.