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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Students huddle for warmth at Reggie’s Sleepout

A van-full of eager, curious and brave Grinnellians journeyed to Des Moines last Saturday night to join over 1,000 other participants in the sixth annual Reggie’s Sleepout, hosted by Iowa Homeless Youth Services. The event, according to its website, works “to raise awareness and money to address the critical problem of youth homelessness in Central IA.” This year the event raised over $180,000 for Iowa Homeless Youth Services. Teams and individuals came from near and far after obtaining pledges from families, businesses, churches and friends in order to construct their homes for the night with cardboard and duct tape.

Sleepout. Photograph contributed.

The event began in 2006 in memory of Reggie Kelsey, who attended Johnston High School located in Johnston, IA and became homeless after aging out of foster care. Three months after his eighteenth birthday, Reggie was found dead in the Des Moines River.

While Reggie was an extreme case, the reality of homeless youth remains serious. About 30% of homeless persons in Iowa are under the age of 18.

“There were nearly 3,000 homeless youth in Polk County last year. We recognize it’s a significant issue in our community and there are organizations that need our support,” said Brad Whipple, Director of Iowa Homeless Youth Centers.

The Grinnell group came prepared with cardboard boxes—thanks to the dining hall—blankets, duct-tape and down coats ready to weather the predicted chilly temperatures and rainfall.

“Upon arriving at the stadium, I was amazed to see the structures that the participants had built, though [I must admit,] some of them were perhaps too extravagant for the ordinary homeless individual,” Said Anthony Wenndt ’15.

The group of four Grinnell did not let the veteran builders intimidate them as they set out to construct their own, considerably more humble, cardboard structure before the stadium lights turned dim. Some of the creative constructions already standing included a giant structure developed by a group of engineering students, made with massive rolls of cardboard and most incredibly, no duct-tape. This structure was designed to create a tornado-like structure that represented the tornado effect of being homeless on all other areas of life. Another group created a giant pyramid to communicate their belief that hunger and poverty should become ancient history.

The impressive event also included fun activities such as card tournaments, a talent show, and all-night-long movie-screenings, not to mention free food.

“Even though a lot of us found the event to be fun, it was fun for us because this was a one-time thing,” said Janice Trang ’15. “In reality, there is nothing fun at all about being a homeless person day after day and night after night, with no bed to call your own.”

Mid-morning rain added to the excitement of the event as the group of Grinnell students held strong and did not seek refuge in the warm and cozy Fieldhouse of the Drake University stadium.

“The rain helped make the experience more real for us, because the truth is that homeless people do not often get to sleep in warm and comfortable places,” Trang said.

The experience of sleeping outside, even for one night, left a lasting impression on the Grinnell participants after facing the brutal realities of homelessness that many live through on a daily basis.

“The experience in general was unforgettable—I have seen poverty in the US and around the world, and to know that so many people right here in Iowa have joined forces to help those who need help the most was certainly an inspiring thing,” Wenndt said. “I would love to attend the event again, because it is . . . a cause that is very dear to my heart.”

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