Students "sleep-out" to raise homelessness awareness


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Leslie Chapin and Kelly Connolly came to Hubbard Park on Sunday evening equipped with their favorite blankets and warmest coats in preparation for a long night.

The University of Iowa juniors and other students traded the comfort of their own beds for 12 hours — from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. — outdoors in recognition of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. By 7:30 p.m., 17 people had arrived, toting boxes and sleeping bags.

UI's Economic Human Rights student organization planned the "sleep out" and accompanying food drive in an effort to be more active in the community. Organization President Mallory Moller said the group first planned events for Hunger and Homelessness Week two years ago, after members of the group visited Philadelphia on an immersion trip.

Once they had experienced areas of intense poverty and homelessness, the students decided they wanted to help the Iowa City community.

Last year, they planned a weeklong food and clothing drive, but this year, the group wanted to increase their effect.

"I thought it was something different that would definitely get peoples' attention, help spread awareness, and just kind of intrigue people and make them think more about homelessness," Moller said. "We kind of wanted to take it to the next step."

Hunger and Homelessness Week, this year running from Sunday through Saturday, is a national event, and the Iowa City City Council voted on Oct. 26 to officially recognize the week locally.

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This is the first such event for the Economic Human Rights group, but Phi Beta Sigma has hosted a similar event for the past 13 years.

Even with the anticipated 28-degree night, the group expected 20 to 30 participants and planned to fill the evening with discussion and reflection on their experience, as well as their views on homelessness.

Connolly said she felt the event was relevant to the community.

"I think it's important because there's a lot of homelessness in Iowa City, and I don't think the community really knows what to do when they see them," she said. "It's just kind of, walk around them, or not look their way. And to actually do this and to bring awareness to it … is about acting like it exists, and not just ignoring it."

Sunday's sleep-out and food drive are just two of many events planned for this week.

Wednesday, the group plans to hold a screening of the documentary Easy Street — a film about homelessness in St. Petersburg, Fla. — in the IMU.

On Thursday, the group will host a food-stamp challenge in which group members will try to eat for $4 a day — the average amount of money for food-stamp recipients is $100 a month. All events are open to the public as well.

The group will also have boxes for food and clothing donations in North Hall, Hillcrest, and the Senior Center throughout the week.

Crissy Canganelli, the executive director of Shelter House, said any events that serve to educate and raise awareness about the realities of living on the margins are a positive thing for the community.

"It's way too easy to be seduced into thinking that we know [about homelessness] based on stereotypes, jumping to conclusions, and having preconceived notions," she said. "It's about getting the facts. I think events like this are very important."

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