LAKEWOOD – A group of teens leave the comfort of their homes to experience the life of those who have nowhere to go. They do this to raise awareness and much needed funds.
A cardboard box and a blanket is all the shelter members of the Youth Fellowship will have when they sleep on the front steps of Lakewood Congregational Church on this cold January night. This is the 11th year for the Homeless Awareness Sleepout. "We want to try and raise awareness for homelessness, because I don't think people really think about it all that much,” 9th grader Matthew Dailey said.
The LCC Youth Fellowship members, ages 11 to 18, leave the warmth of their beds to experience the life of those who have no home and are forced to live on the streets every night. "We have a box that we make with tape and tarp and we have our jackets, blankets and that's about it. We don’t' have any food, electronics nothing,” 10th Grader Jane Mechenbier said.
Matthew who participated in the Homeless Awareness Sleepout the past three years said the experience leaves him feeling a bit said and frustrated. "You kind of get a view on how really hard it is to stay warm, especially in a cardboard box. It's not a very happy feeling and you want to get out of that situation," he said.
In past years, teens from St. Peter's Episcopal Church across the street on West Clifton Blvd. join in the Homeless Awareness event and also sleep on their church grounds all night. “We're good neighbors and we love seeing as much attention called to this issue as possible,” On-Site Coordinator Scott Suttel said.
The teens also do some panhandling, but not for themselves. Monies raised with help the homeless. "Last year, we raised $4500 for four organizations,” Suttel said.
Dailey sees a bigger goal. “That possibly one day we might be able to end it, end homelessness -- or bring it down to a lower percentage than it already is at," he said.
The sleepout continues until Noon on Sunday. That results in an 18-hour experience of what it’s like to be homeless. “I can't imagine doing this every single night for months or years or for however long. It's just a hard night," Mechenbier added.