Sitting in a lecture hall, it’s impossible to tell the hardships other students experience daily. Many may even struggle to find a safe, reliable place to sleep at night.
Nationally, at least 32,000 college students experienced homelessness in 2017 based on responses to the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
This is why Kevin Zabel, a senior advertising major, teamed up with Covenant House, an international organization that provides shelter, medical and college and career support services to youth experiencing homelessness. The organization founded “Sleep Outs,” fundraisers where participants raise money to help youth experiencing homelessness and then spend a night sleeping outdoors to raise awareness.
Zabel is organizing a university-wide Sleep Out to benefit the Philadelphia location of Covenant House on Armat Street near Germantown Avenue. Participating students will each fundraise $50 throughout the semester and sleep outside with cardboard and sleeping bags at the end of Spring 2019.
“Here’s young people in the city of Philadelphia who are the same age as [college students] who, instead of being in a college classroom, are maybe in a homeless shelter dealing with those issues,” said Robert Zindell, the events manager of Covenant House Pennsylvania. “Some of our young people, they’d be amazed at their classmates that are in college classes with them and yet are struggling and homeless and are maybe living in our shelter right now.”
Before Zabel presents the Temple Sleep Out to university administration, he wants to spread the word and gauge students’ interest, he said. He distributed a petition to recruit students and student organizations for the Sleep Out on social media.
Petition signees include five Greek life organizations and 150 students, meeting Zabel’s original goal. He is now aiming for 300 student signatures.
Zabel hopes the event will bring the Temple community together, he said.
“Temple students have been in and out of the Covenant House and a lot of people don’t know that a lot of people struggle with housing,” added Zabel, who is on Pi Kappa Phi’s Philanthropy Committee. “It really is just awesome to hear how many people are supportive about the event.”
Covenant House hosts dozens of Sleep Outs across the country each year, with specific events available for business executives, young professionals, students and women.
Zindell said that while some may have concerns that Sleep Outs make light of youth homelessness, the young people at Covenant House are happy to share their stories at the events.
“They value the fact that an average person, whether it’s a college student or a VP from a company…took the time and were willing to stay outside for the night while they had a safe, warm bed here,” added Zindell, a 2012 master’s of liberal arts alumnus.
About 700 young adults experiencing homelessness are in and out of Covenant House’s Philadelphia location annually, several of which are Temple students, Zindell said.
The April 2018 report “Still Hungry and Homeless in College” by the Wisconsin Hope Lab, a former research endeavor that aimed to increase equality in college education, found 36 percent of university students have experienced housing insecurity in the last year.
Experiencing homelessness “tremendously” affects college students and their mental health because their basic needs aren’t being met, Zindell said.
“Your whole day is taken up by thinking, ‘Where am I going to sleep tonight? Where am I going to get some food from?’” Zindell said. “You don’t have the energy really truly to expend on a lot of things, like going to school and furthering [your] education.”
Zabel and Zindell hope to make the Sleep Out a Big 5 event by getting the University of Pennsylvania, La Salle University, Saint Joseph’s University and Villanova University involved, too. It could become a City Six event if Drexel University also participates.
Zabel also aims to have the Sleep Out become an annual tradition at Temple after he graduates.
“We do other events like setting world records and stuff like that during Homecoming and that’s like fun and games…but this would be a really cool event that would be able to also just give back to the community, too,” Zabel said.