Students camping out in cardboard boxes

Highlighting need for housing
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/20/07

LITTLE EGG HARBOR — Today, 14-year-old Katie Jaeckel will help her mother groom their horses after school at her New Gretna home and read a book before she goes to sleep. Kaitlyn King will do her homework and then go on her computer.

“I’m on it all the time,” said Kaitlyn, a 13-year-old Little Egg Harbor resident.

But Thursday afternoon, the two Pinelands Regional students were preparing to spend the night and part of this morning in a cardboard box outside Pinelands Regional High School on Nugentown Road, along with other students belonging to the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Most of the chapter’s 20 students were planning to do so as a way to highlight the need for affordable housing in Ocean County, the lack of which can lead to homelessness.

John Steele, a math and science teacher who also serves as the group’s adviser, said the act of students staying in cardboard boxes was done to add visual weight. Students who would be leaving and entering the school would see them. So would parents and students attending a college fair Thursday night, which was held at the high school.

“Homeless people exist all over the place. Most people think it’s primarily a problem in the big cities,” said 18-year-old Lindsay Squier of Little Egg Harbor, the chapter’s president.

A report issued in August 2006 by the state Department of Community Affairs notes that “with the cost of housing and land in New Jersey at an all-time high, providing affordable housing for residents is more important than ever.”

Other schools have done similar presentations, including Monsignor Donovan High School in Toms River, which has a Habitat for Humanity chapter. This is the first year where the majority of Pinelands’ Habitat members were to have spent all night outside. A similar presentation was attempted last year, but the numbers of hours spent outside was curtailed due to a lack of chaperones, Lindsay said.

The students did maintain some comforts. Students brought sleeping bags and bundled themselves in sweat shirts. A portable bathroom was to have been placed for the students’ use, and Lindsay said she would be making a pizza run for dinner.

Duct tape, utility knives, and magic markers were used in the construction and decoration of their cardboard homes.

And yet, despite the apparent lightheartedness of the situation, the students hoped a serious message would be conveyed by their overnight stay.

“We want to prove to people that we’re here for a reason. We need affordable homes,” Katie said.

Hartriono B. Sastrowardoyo: (609) 978-4581 or