GSTA Students Participate in Night Out to End Youth Homelessness

Lily Reavis, Editor-in-Chief

At 5:45a.m. on Friday, November 13, eight students, with messy hair and tired faces from a night in the cold without much sleep, arranged themselves on a couch in the meeting room of the First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs. One student was still outside, fast asleep despite the noise of morning commuters and layer of frost on the ground.

Every year, Urban Peak, a youth homeless shelter in Colorado Springs, hosts a “Night Out” to end youth homelessness. This year, the high school’s student body decided to get involved.

Most of the students who were involved are in the school’s Gay Straight Trans* Alliance (GSTA) Wyatt Fries (12), the current president of Manitou Springs High School’s Gay Straight Trans* Alliance (GSTA), asked the club to join him sleeping in the parking lot of the church this year.

Aubrey Hall (10), Lily Reavis (11), Agnes Navaratne (12), Hunter Bogush (12), Isaac Green (12), Sophie Kilroy (12) and Anastasiia Lysogorova (12) joined Fries in the event. They were accompanied by English teacher and GSTA sponsor Duane Roberson.

“I figured that going to a community that some of them [members of the GSTA] have been a part of in the past, would be something close to them that they’d want to take a part in,” says Fries.

Urban Peak is a homeless shelter open to youth aged 15-20 located in Colorado Springs. Annually, the organization hosts the “Night Out” event to raise awareness of youth homelessness in November, which is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.

46 volunteers decided to participate in the event this year. They were asked to arrive at the First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs at 6 p.m. on Thursday night.

From the time of the volunteers’ arrival to 10 p.m., Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of Urban Peak, talked to the volunteers about what to expect during the night.

“We are not simulating homelessness,” said Kemppainen. “It’s important to understand that we’ll probably be uncomfortable, but we aren’t going through anything near what homeless people go through.”

Each volunteer was taken through a simulation during the introduction time. They all were given a situation that is common for homeless people to be stuck in, and went through the steps to try to get back on their feet.

Agnes Navaratne (12) was given the situation of being an 19-year-old woman with schizophrenia. After her character was left on the streets with the fear of being killed, Navaratne understood what all 46 volunteers were meant to learn from the simulation. That was the sheer fact that life for the homeless is hard; harder than most people notice.

After the introduction was over, the volunteers were brought back into the church conference room to ask questions. Volunteers gathered in assorted chairs and couches while tips about how to keep warm at night were given, as well as tips from past volunteers.

At 9:30p.m., the volunteers were told to change into their warm clothes and set up their sleeping arrangements. A hallway in the back of the church was immediately filled with people putting on extra pairs of pants or layers of socks before grabbing their sleeping bags and heading outside.

By 10p.m., the parking lot was filled with tarps and sleeping bags, as well as cardboard boxes and a few people who decided to “tough out the cold” without sleeping bags.

Isaac Green (12) was one volunteer who decided to leave the sleeping bag at home. After participating in the event last year, he is an old pro at sleeping outside.

Green is the only Manitou student who has participated in the “Night Out” event in prior years. There was more participation from the student body this year because of the GSTA’s influence.

The night was warmer than last year, when it was reported to be about three degrees outside. However, restless moving in sleeping bags could still be heard throughout the parking lot in the middle of the night. Fries reported sleeping about a half hour the entire night.

Friday morning, Kemppainen said that Urban Peak had raised $25,000. This is the half-way mark for the organization’s goal of $50,000. Urban Peak says that one night of shelter for a single youth costs about $50.

The Manitou Springs GSTA had raised $671 on Friday morning. Their goal is to raise $1,000 by the end of the year.

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