Sleeping out for the homeless

Published 2:10 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

It’s just after 7 p.m. and Javier Sydnor and James Bennett are among the first members of Omicron Rho chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. at Longwood University to arrive behind the Lankford Student Union.

As more members show up, they bring blankets, jackets, scarves, hats and canned goods and lay them at a table underneath a canopy.

The temperature hovers between 35-40 degrees as members of the chapter prepare to spend the night outdoors, to spread awareness about homelessness both in Virginia and across the country.

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The sleepout is an annual event for the chapter. It’s not an easy feat.

November is when chilly weather and frost really begin to occur overnight. A few chapter members said one person brought a vehicle one year to let participants take turns sitting inside to keep warm.

Bennett said the chapter collects canned goods to donate to FACES Food Pantry and clothing to donate to Farmville Area Habitat for Humanity and the Goodwill.

Sydnor said the chapter has been using the whole week to research and understand area and nationwide homelessness. He said what surprised him the most was learning about the disproportionate number of women who are homeless, one reason is they are often forced to leave their homes due to domestic abuse.

Jerrell Demiel, chapter president, said this would be his second year participating in the overnight program.

Homelessness is a serious problem nationally, Demiel said, but he said steps are being taken to address issues of poverty in the community and at Longwood’s campus.

While not as visible, students facing hunger or lack of warm clothing is an issue at college campuses throughout the United States.

Demiel mentioned Elwood’s Cabinet, a food pantry for students, that is set to open at Longwood’s campus Wednesday at Wesley Campus Ministries from 5-7 p.m. He said the university has taken strides to help students in other ways, including offering student jobs at food-based venues that allows the students close access to meals.

For those interested in donating canned goods or warm clothing, the Omicron Rho Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. can be found on Facebook.