MARSHALL - They were cold and wet while walking around downtown Marshall on Friday evening. They were hungry, and they may have been a little stiff from sleeping on the floor at the YMCA. But the important thing to remember, organizers of the Sleepout said, was that they could all go home afterward. Not everyone is that lucky.
About 65 people, many of them Marshall youth or students at Southwest Minnesota State University, participated in the Sleepout on Friday night. The event raised a total of $4,442 for homeless programs at Western Community Action and the Refuge, a non-profit shelter program that started in Marshall one year ago.
Justin Vorbach, a Sleepout committee member, said he also hoped that the experience would help people remember to show compassion for others.
Photo by Deb Gau
Participants in the Sleepout took shelter from the rain at the Marshall bandshell while waiting for the scavenger hunt to start.
"Often it's tempting, when you see a person who is homeless, to say 'Well, they made their bed,'" Vorbach told the group. "Instead, I hope you think, 'What's their story?'"
Because of the cold and snowy conditions Friday night, the Sleepout was moved to the YMCA for safety. However, participants did have to complete a "scavenger hunt" of tasks that illustrate some challenges a homeless person might face in everyday life. The tasks ranged from finding a bus schedule and operating hours of resources like the local food shelf, to finding recyclable materials or collecting enough change to make a pay phone call.
"It was hard to find the resources," said SMSU student Stacey Kingery. "I can't imagine being homeless and trying to figure out where everything is."
"It feels like it would be a struggle in a small town," added classmate Sally Smith.
"Who felt like they were being watched when they were looking for cans?" Vorbach asked participants. Several hands went up around the room. "How did you sleep?"
"Horrible," someone called out.
The whole time, participants said, they also had to carry their belongings with them. Even using plastic trash bags to carry their sleeping bags or blankets, some things got damp, organizer Angela Larson said.
Later, participants treated their campout in the Y's multipurpose rooms like an emergency homeless shelter - no beds, aside from mats on the floor or sleeping bags, if the participants had them.
Participants Tristan Fales and Peter Shores said some of the boys tried to make a more comfortable sleeping place.
"We made beds out of chairs," Fales said.
The Sleepout fundraiser will continue through this week, in hopes of reaching the goal of $10,000 for Western Community Action. Vorbach said donations can be made out to Western Community Action with "Sleepout" on the memo line, and can be brought to WCA's offices at 1400 South Saratoga St.