Fraternity members, others sleep beneath stars, boxes

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With a low lingering around 38 degrees Fahrenheit and a 70-percent chance of rain, members of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity grabbed their blankets and began building a fort out of cardboard boxes outside on Bosco Student Plaza.

Tuesday night marked Phi Beta Sigma’s 13th annual Sleep Out for the Homeless event, a time for fraternity members and friends both to raise awareness of homelessness and get a tiny dose of what it’s like.

“It’s just kind of a humbling thing, just letting everyone know how fortunate they are to have what they do have,” said Wilson Meekes, president of the fraternity and fourth-year architecture student. “I know we complain that we can’t get that new iPhone, but it’s just letting everyone know there’s that stuff, and then there’s things that really matter in life.”

By 9:45 p.m., the members had dozens of cardboard boxes, strategically balanced on each other, like a house of cards, to build a fort big enough to house all of the members and their guests. While slightly warmer inside the fort, the makeshift house represented what it might be like to sleep with little shelter for a night.

People who attended were also encouraged to bring supplies for donation to local charities.

James Rico, senior in journalism and mass communications, psychology and social sciences, said the fraternity members would collect everything they could, including clothes, blankets, toys and dry and canned foods.

“We’re pretty much accepting anything people are willing to give,” Rico said.

The collections will go to the Flinthills Breadbasket.

Rico gathered several statistics to announce throughout the night to help inform people about the issue of homelessness in Manhattan and across the U.S. He said he spoke with representatives at the Manhattan Emergency Shelter for last year’s numbers.

Keeping in mind that Riley County has the highest poverty rate in the state, Rico said the shelter houses about 500 people a year, 150 of those children.

“They said they’re always occupied,” he said. “They only have 45 rooms that they can actually give out. They’re always full, and every night, they have to turn away people.”

Across the U.S., 1.6 million people use emergency shelters or transitional homes, and 3.5 million experience homelessness throughout the year.

While the current statistics would create a somber mood for the evening, those stopping by saw the good in what the members were doing and thought the event was a good way to promote awareness.

“I think it’s really cool,” said Breanna Stewart, sophomore in music theater. “I like that fact that they’re kind of stooping down to their level; instead of just giving to them, they’re trying to see how it actually feels to live outside and not have anything.”

Throughout the night, participants used conversation and games to pass the time, but with the knowledge that outside their cardboard shelter, the night was cold.

“As students, sometimes we think we have really tough lives in college, but there are people out there that are just trying to find a spot to lay their head,” Rico said.

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