“While I acknowledge that this experience is far from realistic, I do think that it holds significant value. It is a demonstration, a protest against the apathy and lack of awareness that most of us have for this growing segment of our society. Having this experience [allowed me] to empathize with their challenges. My mindset and priorities are completely different. I focus on where my next meal will come from and if I’m going to have enough layers of clothes to keep me warm at night. Hygiene isn’t an option, so it isn’t an issue anymore. I don’t have a place to go home to at night. But beyond these physical challenges, it makes me realize the other elements that are missing in this lifestyle: encouragement, eye contact, a sense of belonging. … Being homeless is really challenging, but instead of supporting these people, we ostracize them and dehumanize them and tell them to get their acts together. I have a whole new perception of the issue now, and it’s all due to the simple act of sleeping in a cardboard box.”
Senior French and environmental studies major
“I am sitting in the Chapel right now, and bags and belongings are sprinkled on the pews. One person is still attempting to sleep under the stairs, but I have no idea how she is accomplishing it. Someone is practicing the organ, and workmen are noisily setting up for the Christmas in Christ Chapel performance. It is 9:00 a.m., and I have been up since 7:00 a.m., when the workmen arrived. I am surprised at the mixture of vulnerability and embarrassment I felt when I realized who they were and why they were here. All of the material possessions that I would have for the next few days were on the pew above me. On the floor, peering over the pew, I felt like I was a criminal. I had never thought before about how private the act of waking up is until I was forced to do it, cold and alone, in a public place. …
The most terrifying part of this experience for me is the knowledge that as much as it sucks, as cold as it gets at night, or as much as my stomach grumbles during class, or as ashamed as I feel in public bathrooms, I can quit whenever I want, but thousands of people who are homeless can’t.
The knowledge that, as much as it sucks being a part of this, someone out there has it ten times worse, has wormed its way into my brain. We do this for three days; many people do it for years. We are all taking a big step in being part of this sleep-out, but in reality we are only peering over the edge of a gigantic chasm of a problem, and this experience has finally made me realize that I truly have no idea where the bottom of that chasm is.”
Junior environmental studies and English major
“I’m tired. I’m tired of being cold, tired of being hungry, tired of weird aches from sleeping on hard ground. Tired of strange stares when I wait at the tray line for scraps of food I might be able to scavenge from the trays of my peers. Tired of being tired—in class, at work, while doing homework. And it’s only been two days. Two days of sleeping in a cardboard box outside the Chapel, trying to sleep and trying not to think too much about … the rest of the activities I have to plan for Hunger and Homelessness Week.
But the catch is, despite being physically and emotionally exhausted, I can take solace in the fact that Wednesday morning I can return to my dorm, shower, put away my belongings and curl up under my polar fleece blanket for a replenishing nap. All the people [who] are truly homeless in cities and rural areas around the country do not have the luxury of knowing they have a warm bed to return to in three days. It is for those people that I sleep out during Hunger and Homelessness Week.
Yes, I know my experience is not 100 percent authentic, and I have an extensive support network that a homeless individual could only dream of. But if my three nights sleeping on cold cardboard and subsisting on scraps makes even one person at Gustavus think seriously about the problem of homelessness, then my tiredness is well worth it.”
Senior communication studies major