Saturday night, families across northern Colorado cozied up next to the glowing flames of their fireplaces, ready to watch network broadcasts of old Christmas movies and escape the bitter chill outside. The Fort Collins homeless community, on the other hand, did not, and neither did some of the city’s youth.
The youth congregation at Plymouth Congregational Church hosted its fourth annual “Warming the World, Clothing the Cold” sleep-out, collaborating with members of the Jewish and Catholic communities in an attempt to raise awareness about homelessness as the days get darker and the nights get colder.
Students with ruddy cheeks smiled, and shivered, as they huddled around burning trashcans and let the haunting riffs of Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” wash over them, as they anticipated the cold night they were about to spend in the ramshackle “box city” they’d constructed on the church lawn.
“We bring our really nice sleep bags and down coats and we’re still really cold,” said Katie Walrond, a Rocky Mountain High School student. “It’s eye-opening!”
Close to 50 students gathered at the sleep-out to spend a night in the sub-freezing temperatures in order to better understand the challenges Fort Collins’s growing homeless population faces during the winter months.
“It’s cool seeing that this many kids are willing to sleep in the snow, in a box,” Jonah Greene, a rosy-faced 9th grade participant, said. “It’s kind ridiculous, but it’s fun.”
“It’s a fun challenge because it seems pretty iffy to sleep in a cardboard box, in the snow, in December,” Emily Kirk, a sophomore at Mountain View High School, added.
The students said the sleep-out is important because it brings an oft-ignored problem to the forefront of the community’s thoughts.
“A lot more people are homeless than you think,” Greene said.
“If nobody knows about a problem, nobody’s going to do anything about it,” agreed Grace Sanders, also a student at Rocky Mountain.
Sue Beck-Ferkiss, director of the Homelessness Prevention Initiative, agreed with the students, saying homelessness is on the rise in northern Colorado and that it afflicts individuals and entire families alike – even threatening their lives during the cold months.
“It doesn’t seem so bad during the summer,” Beck-Ferkiss said. “But during the coldest parts of the year, their very lives are at risk.”
In addition to raising awareness, the event helped to alleviate some of the danger by taking donations of food for the Larimer County Food Bank, clothing for Mary’s Closet, a charitable clothing donation center and monetary contributions for the Homelessness Prevention Initiative, which provides temporary loan assistance to help keep people in their homes.
Last year the event raised over $8,000 dollars, and Nofsinger said they were hoping to raise even more this year.
The jazz group Oikos, a word which means home in Greek, performed before the sleep-out and used their melodies to sooth and inspire those gathered in the sanctuary. Congresswoman-elect Betsy Marky spoke in between songs.
Puffs of translucent breath hung in the frigid air a candlelight vigil that took just before the students retired to their temporary box homes.
“It being cold has more of an impact,” said Allison Koziol, a student at Poudre Valley High School. “We really care about this.”
Senior Reporter Jim Sojourner can be reached at email@example.com.