Friday, November 18, 1994

Alpha Phi Omega sleeps out to help the homeless

By Katie Casey
Special to the Diamondback

Thirty students slept in cardboard boxes on McKeldin Mall Wednesday night to raise people's awareness of the homeless.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity, camped out on McKeldin Mall all day Wednesday through yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, they spent collecting food and clothing for the homeless.

The group wants to make students realize that it is Homelessness Awareness Week, according to Dwight Paris, a senior radio, television and film major and president of Alpha Phi Omega.

"It's important students think about [homelessness] once this week," Paris said.

The food gathered will be given to the Capitol Area Food Bank and clothes will be given to an area shelter, Paris said.

Junior natural resource management major John Svahn, who was riding his bike, stopped to find out what the mass of cardboard was collected in the center of the Mall. He picked up flyers with homeless facts and names of shelters where students can volunteer.

Flyers that the group distributed to students, faculty and staff said about 600,000 Americans each night are considered homeless.

"I'd hate to be homeless today," Svahn said as a cold breeze blew his papers.

Paris, who wore four layers of clothing including three pairs of socks and earmuffs, said sleeping in a cardboard box was definitely an experience.

Their cardboard boxes covered with sheets of plastic were blown by the wind during the cold night and it began to rain between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., he said.

"The smell of wet cardboard is not that great," Paris said, and their "homes" began to wilt.

They may have been homeless for the night but they were not hungry.

McDonald's and Papa John's heard what they were doing and stopped by around 12:30 a.m. with donated food.

"It's cold, but fun," said Kristin Fitch, a sophomore special education major. "It's really made us think."

This is the first time the Alpha Phi Omega members have organized the Homeless Awareness Week Sleep-out, Fitch said.

The group has received a lot of positive feedback, especially from faculty and staff, Paris said. Any negative comments came from students. Paris said that many asked, "Why are you sleeping in cardboard boxes?"

"A lot of people have asked a lot of questions," said Josh Meeker, a junior classics major. "It's served its purpose."