Temple students ‘sleep out’ to combat youth homelessness

Approximately 60 students camped out near the Bell Tower on Friday night to raise money for Covenant House Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that provides social services to people experiencing homelessness.

Students spend the night sleeping outside during the Temple University Sleep Out on the lawn outside of Beury Hall on Nov. 8, 2019. The event aims to raise funds and raise awareness about youth homelessness. | ERIK COOMBS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After pitching up her tent underneath Temple’s bell tower, Jess Mihalczo, a senior advertising major, was freezing but determined to sleep the night out in the cold, she said.

Mihalczo was just one of approximately 60 students participating in Philadelphia’s first-ever outdoor college sleepout to raise awareness about the many young people, Temple students included, who lack secure housing. 

“We’re living in North Philadelphia and in Philadelphia as a greater city where there’s a lot of poverty and homelessness to begin with,” Mihalczo said. “It affects people our age and younger.”

The sleepout, organized by Kevin Zabel, a senior advertising major, took place on Nov. 8 in freezing-cold weather. Participants raised over $10,000 for Covenant House Pennsylvania, a branch of the national nonprofit that provides social services to people experiencing homelessness, Zabel said.

“It started last December,” Zabel said. “I stumbled upon the Covenant House website for young professionals, CEOs, and students. They went to Temple and we discussed setting one up at the school. We’ve been really happy with the feedback and participation we’ve got.”

“Many students don’t realize some of their classmates don’t have a guaranteed place to sleep each night,” he added.

More than half of respondents to 2019’s #RealCollege national survey, administered each year by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, said they were housing insecure in the previous year.

Homeless youth are uniquely at risk of frostbite and human trafficking, said Hugh Organ, the acting executive director of Covenant House Pennsylvania. Covenant House takes in 600 young homeless people per year, Organ said.

The money raised by the event will go toward Covenant House’s two Philadelphia locations, a 76-bed crisis shelter in Germantown and a 20-bed transient housing program, said Robert Zindell, a 2012 masters of Liberal Arts alumnus and associate director of development for Covenant House Pennsylvania.

“The only other university that has done it was Jefferson University this July,” Zindell said. “They ended up sleeping indoors due to a threat of rain. So you guys are the first ones to actually do it outside.”

At least five tents, cardboard boxes and other sleeping shelters were situated near the Bell Tower. Students participated in games of spike ball, giant Connect Four, and a corn hole tournament with a Saxby’s gift card as a prize. Pizza and hot chocolate were on site.

“We know it’s a serious cause, but we wanted the event to be a good time,” Zabel said.

Students attending the event were enthusiastic about both the cause and camping out.

“We thought it would be good to come camp, then found out it was for a good cause,” said Tommy Walsh, a senior finance and economics major and treasurer of Phi Lambda Phi. “When you pass by someone and don’t help them, you feel bad,” 

Julia Prevost, a senior media studies and production major and the event’s communications coordinator, said she hadn’t seen such widespread homelessness before she came to Temple.

“I haven’t seen it from where I’m from, and coming to school in Philly opens your eyes,” Prevost said. “The fact that it’s so many children and young people, you don’t think about that. I thought it was relevant.”

Sarah Depman, a freshman psychology major, is also passionate about the cause, she said. 

“I went to a justice symposium at Manor College in high school, and people from Covenant House spoke about how they wanted people involved,” said Depman, who also runs a program at her local church to create “blessing bags” for homeless people.

Annalyse Solitario, a senior marketing major, said that she planned to stay the whole night. 

“After all, some people do it every night. It’s not a big deal,” she said. “It’s really fun and it raises awareness.”

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