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Board game aims to increase homeless awareness

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Home Sweet Homelessness (Credit: AP Photo/Traverse City Record-Eagle, Jan-Michael Stump)

Ever wonder what it’s like to be homeless?

With temperatures plunging into single digits across much of the country this week, it’s an issue that’s on many people’s minds. But a board game co-designed by the residents at a Goodwill Industries shelter in Northern Michigan promises to give the rest of us insight into life on the street without the accompanying frostbite.

“Home Sweet Homelessness: The Housing Reality Game That Will Open Your Eyes” took staff and guests at Traverse City, MI.’s Goodwill Inn several years to develop, play-test, and tweak. Now the shelter is opening its doors to community members, inviting them to play the game with shelter residents in an attempt to help increase understanding of the difficulties homeless people face on a daily basis.

According to the AP, Home Sweet Homelessness is structured around cards that pose questions addressing issues faced by homeless people. What do you do with your pets? Where can you find a bathroom? What do you do if you have a job interview and you stink?

"I was playing and a woman drew a question card, 'What if you lose your children?'” photographer Alan Newton told the AP. “She was dealing with exactly that problem.”

Thinking through the answer -- and the consequences of whatever solution you come up with -- are at the heart of the board game’s approach to boosting understanding. It’s best played with a homeless person for maximum insight, according to Newton.

Although the board-gaming pastime might be associated more with sugar-sweet family entertainment like Candyland or fireside classics like Cluedo, Home Sweet Homelessness is far from the first game to tackle weightier issues. "Social justice game” Co-Opoly offered players a community-focused take on Monopoly’s relentless capitalism at its 2012 release, while the controversial War On Terror: The Board Game takes a satirical (and often uncomfortable) look at recent history.

But Home Sweet Homelessness isn't intended to spark controversy. It's intended to get people thinking about the social issue -- and perhaps learn a thing or two.

"When I was in a math class, my teacher told me the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else," said Street Outreach Coordinator Ryan Hannon. "The homeless person is teaching someone else to get out of homelessness."

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