Students go homeless to raise funds

Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

FAIRBANKS Five North Pole High School girls emerged from large cardboard appliance boxes in a downtown park to welcome a breezy, overcast May Day.

The chilly morning weather was a rough way to follow a night full of wind, train horns, noisy traffic and a rousing from a local police officer.

''She came down here and shook our boxes,'' a sleepy Nicole Connor said Saturday of the early morning visit from the officer. ''I had just fallen asleep.''

Welcome to the world of the homeless.

The five girls joined one male schoolmate and three students from Ben Eielson High School in simulating the life of the homeless for a night.

As part of an ''overnight for the homeless'' fund-raiser, the students hung out at the park, huddled around a nearby campfire for warmth, endured the curious looks of passers-by and slept in boxes.

Each student collected donations for the Fairbanks Rescue Mission.

Event organizer and North Pole High School senior Courtney Doyel said Sunday the students expected to collect more than $600 for the mission, the main option for homeless adults to find help in Fairbanks.

In addition to earning money, the event also was designed to raise awareness about the issue of homelessness in the area.

While the boxes were a nice touch, they did not represent the many ways homeless people live in the Fairbanks area, said Leona Allridge, homeless liaison for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

Allridge joined students at the North Pole park at the start of the event Friday night.

Fairbanks' homeless population is more difficult to detect than in other communities because of the lack of obvious signs such as people sleeping on the street, said Allridge.

''People in Fairbanks think we don't have a homeless problem because we look in the parks and we don't see them,'' said Allridge.

However, someone can still be homeless even if they don't match all the stereotypical images, she said.

Allridge defined a homeless person as someone who lacks permanent housing for a prolonged period of time. That includes people living in shelters or moving around from place to place while staying with friends or family.

Her latest report documented about 800 students in the school district who live in those types of situations.

However, she said the total number of homeless youth in the area is much higher because the school district's figures do not include many young people who are no longer accounted for in the system, such as runaways or dropouts.

What started as a perfect evening for the students gradually became more inhospitable. The wind had picked up and the mercury had fallen by the time students moved across the street to the Polar Brew coffee shop for a campfire.

Once bed time arrived, students tried to position their boxes to best break the wind.

It didn't work.

''Even in a box, it was cold,'' said Doyel.

Combine the weather with the noise from the railroad and the traffic on Santa Claus Lane and it was a downright rotten setting for some shuteye, said senior Patrick Spencer, the lone male student in the project. But the experience was worth it.

''I'd rather experience this in high school now than have to do it in real life,'' he said.

Doyel said a police officer who knew about the event stopped by to wake up all the girls and joke with them.

''She told us that there's no homeless people allowed in the park,'' Doyel said.

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