[Hpn] Students go homeless for night

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 21 Feb 2005 09:21:24 -0500

Students go homeless for night

 They sleep on street to draw attention to plight of the poor

 By Jodi S. Cohen and John Keilman

Tribune staff reporters

 February 21, 2005

 The first lesson for the 80 Midwestern college students who spent a
miserable Saturday night on the street was to scour trash bins for
cardboard. Lots of cardboard.

 "Concrete steals your heat. You need cardboard to stay warm," said Shaggy,
22, a formerly homeless man who joined the students on an overnight vigil
meant to draw attention to the continuing plight of the poor.

 While the sleep-out on the plaza at the Chicago Water Tower started as a
publicity event, it turned into a real-life seminar, teaching the students
how much effort, ingenuity and emotional armor it can take to survive a
night of snow, hail and subfreezing temperatures.

 "I realized my shoes weren't waterproof--they got so soggy and cold," said
Jenn Romaniszak, 18, a student at Trinity Christian College in Palos
Heights. "I could never do this. I'd have to practice and then be homeless,
which isn't generally how it works."

 The night out was preceded by an afternoon rally at Water Tower Place on
Michigan Avenue. Students asked shoppers lugging bags from Bloomingdale's,
Tiffany's and Victoria's Secret to sign "a declaration against poverty."

 The document asks Mayor Richard Daley and state lawmakers for more
affordable housing and more opportunities for homeownership. Event organizer
Tim King, 20, a junior at North Park University in Chicago, said about 4,000
people signed the petition.

 After the rally, the students began to prepare for their night in the
elements. Louis Hale, who said he was homeless, watched them as he shook a
paper cup and asked for change. He said he had planned to stay at
Northwestern Memorial Hospital that night until he realized the students
would be outside.

 "I'll sleep out with them. Then I won't have to be scared to sleep
outside," said Hale, 39. "Maybe I'll get a blanket from them."

 Some of the students acknowledged that they had come far better equipped
than people who are thrust on the street by circumstance.

 Lorin Kline, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, wore two
shirts, a sweat shirt, a fleece jacket and two pairs of pants and said there
were "10 more layers" in her backpack.

 North Park freshmen Ashley Thain and Beth Larson brought a large duffel bag
that contained a down comforter, fleece blankets, pillows and sleeping bags.

 "We're totally not fully experiencing it," Larson said. "We're only here
for one night. People spend their whole lives out here."

 Despite the Gore-Tex coats and polypropylene underwear, the night proved
difficult. Snow turned to freezing rain and hail, and many of the students
had to scrounge cardboard sleeping mats or head to a nearby McDonald's to
warm up. Few got much sleep, King said.

 King said the night was a revelation in many ways, recounting how one
participant caught a disgusted glare when he changed clothes in the bathroom
of a fast-food restaurant. The man told King that the glare taught him more
than he had ever known about street life.

 "How do people survive out here? How do they do that and search for a job,
search for a home?" King said. "A lot of people think of the homeless as
lazy, but being homeless must be one of the hardest things anyone can do."

 Shaggy said he had spent four years on and off the streets before regaining
his footing a year ago. One tip he passed on to the students was to get wool
socks, which he said are more comfortable in nasty weather.

 "Cotton kills," he said.

 Copyright (c) 2005, Chicago Tribune