One Winter Night event yields under-expected turnout

About 40 students and community members slept outside in cardboard boxes Friday to raise awareness for homelessness in Champaign County.

The sponsor of the event, C-U at Home, is a local chapter of a national campaign called 100,000 Homes, which seeks to house 100,000 chronically homeless individuals by July 2014.

The second annual One Winter Night event was expanded to include a second location on the Quad this year in addition to the downtown Champaign location along Neil Street, where about 35 people attended.

Participants arrived for the event at 6 p.m., when they constructed their own shelters out of cardboard boxes. The intent was to spend 12 hours outdoors, but some participants went into the Illini Union to warm up. 

“Sacrificing a warm place to sleep is making a statement that we want to help people who live like this every day,” said Melany Jackson, executive director of C-U at Home.

Jackson said she was expecting about 200 participants between both locations, but turnout was low, which she attributed to the cold weather.

She said the most participation came from members of student organizations like the Stamps Scholars and Marching Illini.

Anthony Bruno, member of the Stamps Scholars Program and junior in Engineering, said the organization participated last year as well.

“It was just a great experience knowing that such a small sacrifice of a warm bed is a small thing to give up, but it makes a world of a difference for some people,” Bruno said. “It’s great knowing (that we’re) making such a big impact.”

A 2011 Community Report released by the United Way of Champaign County reported that an estimated 418 people in the county are homeless at any given time.

“It’s very important for people to come out here and understand that this is happening all around us,” said Heather Clark, event volunteer and graduate student. “I think that people like to think that everybody has a spot to sleep every night, especially on a night like this. ... (This event) will make them really see what a problem homelessness is.”

Participants made a pledge of $50, and event coordinators collected donations from passers-by. The donations will help the organization pay for housing, utilities and taxes for the homes they help provide for the homeless.

Despite this, Jackson said in an email Saturday afternoon, they were $10,000 short of their fund-raising goal of $50,000, although they will continue accepting donations.

C-U at Home uses a “vulnerability index” that the main organization behind 100,000 Homes created, which uses an algorithm to determine risk of death. It is based on length of time on the street, age, emergency room and hospital visits, physical and mental health, and substance abuse.

“C-U at Home specifically helps the ones that are most vulnerable, the ones that are most likely to die living on the streets ... those that need housing the most,” said Gabby Sorich, volunteer and senior in social work.

Atoosa can be reached at asayeh2@dailyillini.com.