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Experiencing life as a homeless person

November 10, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

About 40 area youth will be sharing the experience of what it would be like living on the streets as a homeless person.

As participants in the annual Homeless Awareness Sleepout set for this Friday in Alpena, they will hunker down for the night in cardboard boxes set up in the Michigan Works! parking lot on Chisholm Street.

While plans call for having participants sleep outside overnight in the boxes, the weather this year could have an impact on that plan.

Article Photos

Courtesy Photo
Samantha Carriveau, who is shown participating in a previous Homeless Awareness Sleepout held at the Michigan Works! parking lot, plans to participate again this year. The event is Friday, but it may be moved indoors to St. Bernard’s gym if the rainy weather persists.

"We sleep outside even if it's cold and snowy, but if it keeps on raining we will have to move inside," said Marsha Hoppe, who as youth coordinator for the Alpena Catholic community, has helped to plan this event since 1998."

Despite only missing one year in the last 13 due to a flu epidemic, Hoppe said continued rainy weather could result in a change of plans. The kids will still take a stand for homeless awareness, but their event will be moved indoors to the gym at St. Bernard's.

If things do go according to plan, youth from all four local Catholic churches, Grace Lutheran Church and First Congregational Church will gather for a soup supper at 6 p.m. at St. Bernard's Friendship Room. That will be followed by a prayer service at 7 p.m., before they take to their boxes at 8 p.m.

Throughout the night, the kids also will be holding up signs along Chisholm Street and seeking donations from the community. All money collected will be split between the Friendship Room, Sunrise Mission and St. Vincent de Paul.

"We don't know how much money we will raise because the economy is not good," Hoppe said. "The kids really enjoyed doing this last year though."

Participants also will hear a guest speaker from the Sunrise Mission.

"Every year the most powerful part of the event is the speaker who comes from the shelter," Hoppe said. "They talk about how they became homeless, that it could happen to anyone, and what the various organizations do to help them. The kids say that's what touches them the most."

Another key aspect, should the event still be outdoors, is the security detail handled by the local Vietnam Veterans. They keep the burn barrels going for the kids and stay up all night to ensure their safety.

"It's Veterans Day and the Vietnam Vets will be staying up all night to protect us and to keep the burn barrels going," said Hoppe. "That's huge."

Come 5:30 a.m. Saturday, the youth participants will be awakened to tear down their boxes and head home to their own warm beds and a warm breakfast.

"When the kids fill out their evaluations afterward, they say this experience helps them to understand what it means to go home to a warm bed," Hoppe said.

She hopes that many area residents will drive by on Friday in support of the kids and homeless awareness.



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