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Event focuses on ‘hidden population’

Photo by Emily Tyler, staff photographer

Iowa Homeless Youth Centers took over Drake Fieldhouse Saturday for its seventh annual Reggie’s Sleepout. The all-ages event and involves people spending the night (7 p.m.-7 a.m.) camping on the football field, many in cardboard boxes and others in tents, to experience what it is like to be homeless.

Reggie’s Sleepout was started in memory of Reggie Kelsey, who aged out of foster care in 2001 and spent the next three months homeless before being found dead in the Des Moines River. The goal of the event is to raise awareness about homeless people, an often “hidden population,” as director Brad Whipple stated, and prevent similar situations from happening.

Although participation in the event is free, campers are asked to get sponsored by friends and family. The money goes directly to Iowa Homeless Youth Centers and is used for support housing programs, street outreach and education reform, all for people between the ages of 16 and 25. Proceeds also go to Aftercare, a program that was created in response to  Kelsey and is aimed to help youth who have aged out of foster care up to the age of 21. As of this year they will have raised roughly one million dollars towards helping homeless youth.

Although the event raises money, its key role is in raising awareness and encouraging people to help out throughout the year. High school senior Delaney Downy has come for the past three years with her United Methodist Youth Group and praises the event.

“Instead of just talking and learning about being homeless, you’re living it and better understanding of it,” Downy said.

With the event held in late October and sometimes as late as November, the temperatures can drop pretty low and Downy warns anyone interested in participating in future events to bring lots of layers. She notes that oftentimes the cardboard structures will fall over in the night and she’ll wake up to see cardboard knocked down all around her. Because of the cold, falling asleep is hard, staying asleep is OK, but waking up in the morning is always a challenge, especially when it comes to actually getting up, because of frozen limbs. What little sleep people manage at Reggie’s Sleepout is never good sleep either. After becoming more aware of homeless experiences, Downy has made an effort to donate more throughout the year and help out when she can, basically to “just do more” for her community.

Kasey Dings was another participant who came with her family and admitted she was goaded into going by her daughter, but says she enjoys the event because it allows her to do something with her family that has “a positive influence.”

She doesn’t think about the homeless on a daily basis, but when it comes time to donate used items, she now seeks out places like local women’s shelters that cater to abused mothers and women instead of donating to larger, more general places like Goodwill. She finds the event really important for learning about the actual people who are homeless.

“Unfortunately the drug addicts and drunks are the face of the homeless, and they’re only a small percent,” Dings said.

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