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Morrisville State College students sleep out in hand-crafted shelters

Incorporate various causes of homelessness into their design
MORRISVILLE, NY—The number nine glowing through the side of Justin Larmon’s project drew towering attention to the neatly four-tiered, red and white shelter he built to the likeness of a wedding cake.

The digit was a daunting reminder of the massive devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans that left thousands of people homeless, and a reference to actor and film producer Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right Foundation” to help rebuild the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward.

Larmon, 26, of Earlville, was among eight Morrisville State College students who built homeless shelters then set them up in front of Hamilton Hall to help raise awareness about homelessness. Students spent weeks planning and designing the shelters, an annual project that is part of Professor Anne Englot’s Architectural Design I class.

This year, students were also assigned a particular issue that related to homelessness or could make someone homeless, such as unemployment, lack of affordable housing, deinstitutionalization, hurricanes, tsunamis, domestic violence, veterans, alcoholism, and drug abuse, and had to incorporate them into their shelters.

Clever ideas and use of materials defined students’ structures, which varied in shape and size. Some were light and easily toted on students’ backs, while others were designed with wheels or wood so they were portable and could also be dragged through elements like snow.

Larmon, a landscape architectural studies major, was among a handful of students who along with professor Englot, spent the night in their shelters. He shared his temporary home with his pit bull, Bentley.

Larmon’s first brush with homelessness was an eye opener. “You think it doesn’t exist here locally,” he said, “but it does and a lot of people are affected by it.”

Inside his shelter, built to resemble a tiered wedding cake and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Larmon also devised a water-collection system out of PVC pipes. Constructed mainly of cardboard boxes and plastic purchased from Lowes, his shelter came well within the $25 budget allotted to students.

Students relied on donated materials, castoffs found in dumpsters and on roadsides, and items they had at home or in their rooms to stay within their budget.

Olivia Kasprzyk, 20, of Oriskany, an entrepreneurial and small business management student, limited her purchases to Velcro, piping, tape and glue.

Prior to designing their individual shelters, students first researched rural homelessness. Given a list of rules to follow (shelters had to be habitable, portable, resistant to moisture and cold, provide light and ventilation to the interior, and be aesthetically pleasing), the rest was up to them.

Dan Cuebas, 20, of Long Island, an entrepreneurial and small business management student, based his shelter on homeless veterans. Resembling an Army truck, his 50-pound structure was draped in blue tarp and designed with wooden runners along the bottom that could easily slide in snow. He utilized skills honed from a wood technology degree he already has from Morrisville State College.

Students’ experiences were documented in an hourly journal they were required to keep.

“I live for experiences like this,” said Jordan Zalepeski, 18, of Camden, an architectural studies and design major, about sleeping overnight in her shelter. “This is a way for me to help raise awareness about homelessness.”

Students’ efforts were just part of what faculty, staff and students on the Morrisville State College campus did to raise education, action and awareness about hunger and homelessness during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Nov. 14-20.

The campus was among churches, schools, and service agencies who partnered to address the issue in Madison County, collaborating with the Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Madison County.

Englot and her students also volunteered at the CazCares fresh fruit and vegetable distribution event. CazCares is a food pantry and clothing closet that serves low income residents of the Cazenovia School District and surrounding areas of Madison County.

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs, the college was named to the 2010 President’s Higher Community Service Honor Roll. Visit to experience, Morrisville in motion.