UT students braved the cold and the morning dew in order to gain a relatively authentic experience of being homeless for a night.
The Peace office’s annual Sleep Out for the Homeless ran over 24 hours over Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10 and 11.
The event began at 9:00 Friday morning with P.E.A.C.E. staff assembling boxes, which would be selected by organizations or individuals involved, decorated, and eventually, slept in.
P.E.A.C.E. officers and attendees alike were surprised when reporters from two news stations – FOX and ABC – arrived on scene to interview the event’s organizers.
“We had about 138 people show up, coming and leaving,” said P.E.A.C.E. coordinator Krysten Loielo. Some 600 campus service hours were logged. “This is a unique event, and we had an even more unique set-up this year.”
The Sleep Out offered more flexible come-and-go activities than in prior years.
At 10 p.m., a candlelight vigil in memorial to those who lost their lives to homelessness, followed by informal speaking and panel lead by ex-homeless individuals. A series of speakers detailed their personal experiences, including how they came to be homeless and how individual intervention saved them from a life on the streets.
Since the event was aimed at raising awareness in students more than funds, the P.E.A.C.E. officials offered packets of information related to homelessness. According to “Homes for the Homeless”, the average age of a homeless person is 9, and many experts predict that more than 7 million Americans will experience homelessness by 2012.
This isn’t to say no money was raised at all – the UT Women’s Organization brought in more than $45 panhandling on the sidewalk in front of Sykes, and Phi Mu Alpha sang to pedestrians in exchange for food donations. The money raised will be donated to the Hillsborough County Homeless Coalition.
The lawn of Sykes was alive with activity and box-dwellers until almost 5 a.m. Saturday, with temperatures around 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
By the time the event closed at 9 a.m., less than half the participants remained, as most retreated to their dorms for warmer sleeping quarters. The cleanup was quiet and brisk. Awards for the box-decorating contest were awarded to the UT Women’s Organization and Phi Mu Alpha.