DUBOIS, Pa. — A group of Penn State DuBois students recently completed a social change project, “Sleepout for Homelessness,” aimed at raising awareness of the U.S. homelessness epidemic by spending a night outside and getting a glimpse into what people who are homeless experience every day.
The six students set up for the evening in front of campus, along State Route 255, where they constructed shelters out of cardboard boxes and tarps. They collected donations for the National Coalition of the Homeless as well as the Haven House shelter in DuBois. They netted $200 for those organizations between onsite collection and online donations.
The project was completed for a course where students learned about societal issues, what programs and services currently look like, and what individuals can do to help others in need. Students in the same course also took an Alternative Spring Break trip to Washington, D.C. this year, where they spent their break helping people who are homeless or living in impoverished conditions. They volunteered to prepare and distribute food, hygiene supplies and clothing, and completed other service work in shelters. Lecturer in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Marly Doty led students on the D.C. trip and joined them for the sleepout event as well.
“There were a lot of lessons learned outside Friday night. We all got tired very quickly and many of us slept only a couple hours at the time because of the traffic or being fearful that someone would cause harm or take something,” Doty said. “It’s unfathomable to imagine what that would be like day in and day out. We are all very grateful to have a warm place and home to go back to. Our night ended by going home, where for many people experiencing homelessness their day would begin by trying to find food.”
Students were quick to recognize those lessons in what became a hands-on learning experience, as well as an awareness event. HDFS student Keeley Chiodo said, “Participating in the Sleepout for Homelessness was such an eye-opener. We got to feel the humiliation of being stared at, being ignored, and being unable to sleep peacefully at night. We definitely take what we have for granted, and I am going to look at life a lot differently after this experience, and the experience in D.C. as a whole.”
Jamie Turner, a business student, said they experienced a spectrum of interactions with people during the night. She said, “We had a nice couple bring us water and a tarp; it was nice to see people care. We asked people for money, which was not easy to do, and most people drove past us like we were invisible. I couldn't sleep because all I could think about was someone trying to steal our stuff or messing with our houses. I can't imagine having to live like this every day, it is not an easy life to live. This experience makes me want to act more towards ending homelessness.”
HDFS student Daulton Helo agreed that more action needs to be taken to combat homelessness, saying, “As we were sleeping outside Friday night, cars kept passing by and honking, acknowledging us. I'm sure they were thinking that all these people are doing a wonderful thing sleeping outside and spreading awareness about homelessness, but honking your horn and acknowledging us doesn't fix anything.”