Students brave freezing temperatures to raise homelessness awareness

By Chelsie Gastright, Organizations Editor

April 10, 2013

HomelessnessIn Guilford County, there are approximately 1,000 people who are homeless; 1,000 people who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from and who have to brave the elements just to get a few hours sleep.

Without spending a night out on the street, homelessness can be a difficult concept to grasp. So on March 22, with the help of Open Door Ministries, West End Ministries, and Partners Ending Homelessness, High Point University held its first Homelessness Awareness Campout.

After being approached by Open Door Ministries, HPU’s Civitan Club promoted the Homelessness Awareness Campout on campus throughout the month of March.

The Civitan Club wanted to make the event exciting to draw interest, but they also wanted to make sure the experience that the campers received was as authentic as possible. Even if that meant they were caught in the rain.

“We thought, well what happens if it rains?” said Erin Karpovich, Civitan Club historian. “If you’re homeless and it rains, you just have to deal with it and put up with it because that’s your life. You don’t say, well let’s go back to High Point University and sleep in our dorm.”

Approximately 100 students, teachers and community members gathered in the JC Penny Parking lot at Oak Hollow Mall with only a sleeping bag, a pillow and the clothes on their back. The night’s events started at 7 p.m. with a welcome from the partnered organizations.

As the night unfolded, there were sleeping bag races and live music from The Petal Points and The Toccatatones. There was also karaoke and speakers who had once been homeless, but were helped by one of the partnered organizations.

“No one wakes up one day and decides that they want to be homeless,” said Steve Key, executive director of Open Door Ministries. “There are a series of things that happen to create a situation where someone doesn’t have the resources to provide for themselves.”

Key also went on to stress that the best way to end homelessness is through community awareness, which is what he and the other organizations were trying to do through the campout.

However, the night ended with an emotional reminder of why the campers were sitting in the cold.

Those still around by the later hours were shown “The Pursuit of Happyness.” As the temperatures began to drop, and the movie began to play, Karpovich began to understand the reality of homelessness.

“As much as I tried not to think about it, I couldn’t get over how cold I was and how my exposed face hurt,” said Karpovich. “It hurt me to think of the homeless population … and I could not imagine how they brave it in the dangerously cold winters.”

While the head count started at around 100, only 15 stayed until morning. Karpovich and her fellow Civitan Club member and secretary Elizabeth Burns were among the 15.

“It was definitely a little cold but we all huddled up and got together for the cause,” said Burns. “It felt really good to cozy up and experience just a taste of what about 1,000 people in Guilford County experience every night.”

Both Karpovich and Burns have high hopes for the campout to become an annual event.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget how fortunate we really are as HPU students, but we more so forget how fortunate we are to have the bare essentials. To have a roof over our heads, a warm bed to crawl into, and a guaranteed meal is somewhat of a luxury.

“This event is not putting an end to homelessness,” said Karpovich. “It is only part of the puzzle … but what the event accomplished was ingraining an appreciation for the commodities we are blessed to have, at the university and in all aspects of our lives.”

For more information on how you can help, visit the websites of any of the partners: Open Door Ministries, West End Ministries, and Partners Ending Homelessness. For more information on how to join the Civitan Club, email Daniel Hall (dhall@highpoint.edu) or find the club on Facebook, HPU Civitan Club.