ORONO, Maine — The campfire did little to stave off the windy, chilly air Monday afternoon on the University of Maine campus, but several UMaine students are hoping their cause of affordable housing for all will warm passers-by enough this week to get them to reach into their wallets and donate.
Four UMaine students who are members of the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity are camping out in a corner of the UMaine mall area, a project they call Snow Place Like Home, in order to draw attention to the issue of affordable housing in the Bangor area.
Their home for the next three days and two nights will be a tarp-and-plywood tent with no source of heat, which is the students’ attempt to replicate the struggles that some people in the Bangor area have to heat their homes.
That’s the reason members of the Habitat chapter have chosen for the second year in a row to camp out in the winter, instead of during a warmer time of the school year.
“The need is greater in the winter,” said Brenton Murray, a second-year business graduate student who helped start the Habitat for Humanity chapter last year and advises this year’s group. “People who are living in substandard conditions have leaky roofs or no insulation, and the lack of insulation is really a tough thing now.”
Murray said the chapter raised $2,500 in 2009 through Snow Place Like Home, $500 of which was donated during the group’s campout week. More than 15 companies have made donations this year, he said.
The funds raised go to the Bangor-area affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, an international nonprofit ecumenical Christian housing ministry that has built more than 350,000 houses around the world, according to its Web site.
UMaine graduate and AmeriCorps volunteer Stephen Smith of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bangor said the local affiliate builds an average of about one house every other year. Home projects here have an average cost of $150,000, which Smith said can be higher than for houses in other areas because of the insulation and heating equipment necessary for life in a cold climate.
“We get a lot of calls,” Smith said. “Unfortunately we just can’t keep up with them all. One every other year is about all we can do now. We’re hoping to up that to at least one or two a year.”
The group is working on plans for a house on Fifth Street in Bangor.
Murray and other students, including Dana Buckley of Eliot, a junior studying sociology, will have to learn to cope with the weather over the next few nights. UMaine’s Maine Bound program has lent the Habitat for Humanity members some extra-warm sleeping bags, and the tent-and-plywood structure does manage to cut the wind. The group bought hand-warmers after receiving a donated gift card from an area sporting goods store.
The students hope last year’s weather doesn’t repeat itself.
“It was chilly [last year], and on the last night it snowed,” said Murray, who is from Phoenix. “We had some leakage. We woke up with snow on the sleeping bags.”
To donate or for more information, call 992-0704, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, which sells new and reusable donated housing supplies at a discounted price to the general public to help fund building homes for local low-income families.