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Outdoor sleepover disrupted by snow, freezing drizzle
Erik Dodge
Antelope Staff
Photo by Erik Dodge
Participants at the Homeless Awareness Sleepover line up in the cold for soup, hoping to be warmed up. The sleepover, Friday, Oct. 9, was scheduled by the United Way to be held outdoors but was moved inside due to snow and below-freezing temperatures.

Participants in the first ever Homeless Awareness Sleepover found shelter in a Cushing gym on the first night snow fell in Kearney, a grim reminder about what it might be like to be homeless during the cold winter months.

The United Way originally planned for the sleepover to be held outdoors next to the fountain but moved the event inside due to the weather.

The switch highlights one of the threats homeless people face in the area. “If a homeless person were forced to spend the night outside in January, they probably wouldn’t survive,” said Lisa Reese Parish, executive director of the United Way of the Kearney Area.

Over 40 people attended Friday evening including UNK students, United Way board members, and professor of sociology Dr. Kurt Borchard, who authored a book about homelessness in Las Vegas.

Attendees were addressed by Parish and Borchard, ate dinner in a soup line and watched “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Those who spent the night were invited to take part in a “night watch,” spending one hour of the night awake, outside and journaling about the experience.

Borchard, the special speaker, invited the audience to help define homelessness. Most people define homelessness as not having a physical residence, but homelessness also has another aspect, according to Borchard. “Home” is the notion of a place to feel safe and be surrounded by people who care, not just the physical structure, he said.

Borchard gave the audience three ways to help. First, support local charities. Second, be an active citizen through voting or possibly protesting anti-homeless laws. Third, listen. He said you can make a change simply by listening to one person a day. “People with a problem in the community
should be viewed as part of the community instead of separate from it,” Borchard said.

Parish told the night watch volunteers that they “might be the first people in Kearney to see snow.” Those journaling were encouraged by Borchard to imagine they were sleeping in a shelter full of strangers. Journal entries are set to be added to the United Way of the Kearney Area Web site,

The number of actual reported homeless individuals locally is low. “We do not have a sizable homeless population in the area,” Parish said. However, more trouble comes from near homelessness and potential evictions. Area agencies deal with around 80 individuals annually, although some cases may be chronic, according to Parish.

The United Way partner agencies who work to help the area’s homeless include the Homeless Prevention Program, Jubilee Center, Salvation Army and RAFT.

Even though area homeless numbers are low, the state of the economy increases the possibility that those numbers will climb. “The risk of homelessness is very real right now,” Parish said. It would be very easy for a family to backslide into homelessness. “Awareness among the crowd at UNK and the community is very important,” Parish said.


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