Greek Life students sleep out to raise awareness for homelessness

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A candlelight vigil was held before the sleep-out in memory of children who died while homeless. - Photo courtesy of Mandi Cruz
A candlelight vigil was held before the sleep-out in memory of children who died while homeless. – Photo courtesy of Mandi Cruz

Rowan University Greek Life students put themselves in the shoes of the homeless and slept outside for one night.

On Thursday, April 21, students gathered for a candlelight vigil in the Student Center before the sleep-out. During this vigil, the stories of young people who lost their lives on the streets were shared. Every person who died was named one-by-one and given a moment of silence.

“The best part of the event was seeing the turnout from Rowan students who wanted to sleep out with us,” said Calvin Brown, 23-year-old brother of Suicide Phi Chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. and president of National Pan Hellenic Council. “None of them had to, but the fact that they thought doing this mattered shows how genuine Rowan students really are.”

Students slept on the basketball courts near Mimosa Hall. After they set up their tents and bundled in their sleeping bags huddled with friends, they began their “night on the streets.” Sororities and fraternities that participated included Alpha Sigma Alpha, Chi Upsilon Sigma, Delta Sigma Theta, Lambda Tau Omega, Lambda Theta Alpha, Lambda Theta Phi, Psi Sigma Phi and Iota Phi Theta.

“This experience really opened up what it feels like to be homeless,” Brown said. “I was lucky enough to go to my actual bed and go to sleep [the next morning]. Not everyone is that fortunate, and it gives you a sense of humbling.”

Students slept outside for a night to raise awareness for homelessness. - Photo courtesy of Mandi Cruz
Students slept outside for a night to raise awareness for homelessness. – Photo courtesy of Mandi Cruz

A lot of the students said they couldn’t imagine living in such a way. Their experience sleeping outside was physically painful for them, even if it was only for a single night. The temperature reached a low of 46 degrees.

The sleep-out raised nearly $1,000 for Covenant House, an organization that helps prevent people from sleeping on the streets, and the donation page for the sleep out will remain open for the next four months on www.covenanthouse.org. Their next goal is to raise $5,000.

Covenant House, a charity service for 18- to 21-year-olds who are homeless and at risk, hosts sleep-outs across the country. People as diverse as CEOs, young professionals, mothers and students have participated in sleep-outs. However, Rowan held the first ever Greek Life student sleep-out.

“[The sleep-out] is really about feeling that experience and figuring out what you would do the next day,” said Lennon Moore, Staff Attorney at Covenant House. “Imagine if you haven’t had a shower, you slept outside all night, you don’t have a job, you don’t have a place to stay, you don’t have money and you’re starving.”

Rowan is hoping to make sleep-outs an annual tradition in which all students, faculty, staff and administration can participate.

“Most of our college students are in college because their parents have lifted them up,” said Mandi Cruz, sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. and service manager of Covenant House. “Our kids are out there alone. They have no one in their corner to say that they’re worth anything.”

One in 45 American children will be homeless this year; they will experience not only cold and discomfort, but also loneliness and fear. They are more likely to be subject to human trafficking and drugs than children with homes.

“Most people don’t believe that kids are sleeping in the street,” Cruz said. “This is an issue that exists across the country and it’s happening right next to Rowan’s campus.”

Cruz has received several calls about students with nowhere to go during winter, spring and summer breaks. One 19-year-old student, who was introduced to heroin at the age of 16 by his father, dropped out of school altogether. Another 19-year-old student with no home other than her dorm was trafficked by her mother at age nine. This is the magnitude of cases that the Covenant House sees everyday. After children and young adults turn to Covenant House, they are often relocated outside of the Camden area – another tough transition.

“We want to hopefully raise money so that we can have more housing in Camden and rehab the community and their lives to make them active citizens in the community, which they want to be,” Cruz said. “Kids say I want to work, I want to go back to school, I want a different life.”

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