Students brave winter night to raise awareness of homelessness

While many people had a roof over their heads the night of Dec. 20, about 150 Andover High School students braved the piercing cold wind outside their school.

Left to right: Andover High School seniors A.J. Harmon, Jared Wilburn and Troy Sperl inside a snow shelter set up to escape the icy wind.Photo by Eric Hagen

Left to right: Andover High School seniors A.J. Harmon, Jared Wilburn and Troy Sperl inside a snow shelter set up to escape the icy wind. Photo by Eric Hagen

Many of these students are in the school’s Outdoor Adventures club and this was a good test run for the group’s camping trip to the Boundary Waters later this winter. The most important goal of this close-to-home excursion, however, was to raise awareness of homelessness.

According to Karrie Schaaf, homeless youth and families liaison for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, she knows of 370 students in the school district who are experiencing homelessness. During the 2011-2012 school year, she recorded the names of 581 students. The number for the prior school year was 248.

Bobak Ameli, an Andover High School teacher and one of the staff leaders of the Outdoors Adventures group along with Michael O’Neil, found out about three homeless students at Andover High School just from having this homeless sleepout event.

While some of the homeless students do have a roof over their heads because they are going from couch to couch, others must find some way to stay warm in the cold winter night.

Schaaf said the school district have also helped families with financial hardship turn their utilities back on.

The approximately 150 Andover High School students each chipped in $10 and some food or personal hygiene products before they set up their shelters for the evening. This was the fourth consecutive year that the school has had a homelessness awareness sleepout.

Anna Wilken, a student learning advocate at Andover High School, said about $2,000 in money and gift cards were donated.

Wilken oversees the Bettering the World/Key Club student group and has a refrigerator in her office stocked with yogurt, cheese, bars and other items that students can privately ask for if they are hungry and did not get enough to eat at home.

Oak View Middle School in Andover has a food shelf and helps out. Wilken also has access to donated clothes and coats.

Rachel Jokinen, vice president of the Bettering the World/Key Club group and a junior at the high school, said this sleepout is a good opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of homelessness. Instead of talking about wanting to help, she and the other students are physically doing something about it, she said.

“Even being in the cold, it helps you to understand,” said Karah Lodge, junior and president of Bettering the World/Key Club.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

  • Patty Schoff

    I understand this as a “trial” event. I am concerned that when photos are taken, there are smiles on faces! I am a Dist # 11 teacher and have students that are not homeless but are very poor. I would never do a “trial” run replicating their lives and then have a photo taken with me smiling about the experience. This type of photo is seen year after year… because the students know that the lifestyle is temporary and they will be going home.
    Is there another way to post this student activity/awareness??????
    Other teachers have said the same thing.
    Respectfully,
    Patty Schoff

    • Kimberly Corbey

      While I applaud the efforts regarding homelessness awareness in our community, I, too, am troubled by the trivializing nature of the photos. Perhaps, visuals for the event could rely less on the “pretend” homeless and have more pictures of the food shelves, student/staff contributions and interviews with students after the event to highlight their difficulties in the one night homeless experience.

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