By MICHAEL WUNDER, NEWS EDITOR
UNO students inhabiting the shantytown that’s sprung up in the Crossroads Mall parking lot haven’t fallen on hard times — they’re trying to make a difference.
Pi Kappa Alphas and members of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority, erected makeshift cardboard shelters in the parking lot of the mall for the Eighth Annual “Just Can It!” fund raising event.
The event, a partnership between UNO Greek students and the Salvation Army, is an effort to highlight the issue of homelessness and raise donations for those in need.
The cardboard lean-tos, some quite elaborate, were constructed to raise awareness of homelessness, Larson said. The Crossroads Mall was chosen for its particular business. Its visibility from Dodge Street also brings attention.
“People come and go,” said senior Marketing Management and Human Resources major Bill Larson. “During rush, hour people stop by most often.”
Last year, the event collected 30,000 cans. This year Larson and his comrades hope to increase that number to 50,000.
A revolving number of students will sleep in the cardboard hovels every night until Friday morning.
The need for food donations has been “exploding” recently, Larson said. During the last two years of economic stagnancy, the homeless population has been hit especially hard.
In a December 2010 press release, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported the ailing economy fostered an increased risk of homelessness for impoverished workers.
“As the economy struggles to recover, unemployment, underemployment and poverty threaten working poor people with the prospect of homelessness,” said Nan Roman, president of the Alliance, in the release. “We must continue to provide the necessary resources to stabilize and ensure housing for working poor people so that the legacy of this challenging economy is not a new generation of homeless people.”
The last official homeless count was in 2007, when volunteers reported a national total of 671,859, according to the Alliance’s website. In Nebraska, the number was 3,531.
Such abysmal numbers have created an imperative to assuage a “huge, huge need” for help, Larson said.
Canned food donations can be brought directly to the “Just Can It!” fundraiser at Crossroads Mall, dropped in any one of the bins residing in many UNO campus buildings or delivered to any Omaha Fire Department Station. No Frills Supermarkets customers can also make donations in-store through April 12.
Although the fundraiser is primarily focused on collecting non-perishable food, monetary donations are also encouraged. Donations can be sent directly to the Salvation Army or left in the red kettle at the “Just Can It!” site.
Any effort helps, Larson said. “I really just want it to hit home.”