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Homeless Youth Awareness Goal of Annual Sleepout Event

Photo courtesy of the Rare Breed

The average age of homeless youth in Springfield is 17.  To raise funds and bring awareness for the hundreds of these individuals living on the streets, Rare Breed will host the annual Sleepout event with the goal of “Sleeping outside so kids don’t have to.”  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has more.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sleep in a cardboard box, or rely on a soup kitchen for your next meal?  For many Springfield kids ages 13 to 21, this is their everyday experience. Rare Breed Youth Services Coordinator Loni Brewer says the event allows citizens that do have a place to stay the chance to experience what it’s like to not.

“The Sleepout is a great event.  We have been doing it for years and I think it just keeps getting better. The goal of it is to raise awareness for the youth that are sleeping on the streets each night here in Springfield. And I think the wonderful thing about it is that it gives the community and opportunity to interact with these youth,” says Brewer.

The event is family friendly, shares Brewer, and says people can come for a few hours or stay for the whole night.  There will be art on display made by many of the youth, a soup line staffed by 20 different vendors, and many other opportunities.

“We have a cardboard box building contest that people can do.  It’s just a fun thing to participate in and we have youth that go around and are the judges for that contest.  We also have events and movies throughout the night, again just to raise awareness. Many of these movies contain stories that the youth talking about a day in the life of a homeless youth in Springfield, Missouri,” Brewer says.

Credit Photo courtesy of the Rare Breed
Photo courtesy of the Rare Breed
The cardboard box contest is one of the many events happening at the Springfield Sleepout

Awareness is one of the main goals of the event, but it is also an important fundraiser for the organization’s three youth programs.  Rare Breed’s street outreach program provides survival and educational services for over 80 youth every day.  The housing program provides apartments for 20 youth with wrap around services, and Safe Place Springfield partners with 80 local businesses to help youth in crisis. But just 8 staff make up all three programs.

“Our budget is very small and the federal government cut funding 52% nationwide, so we rely on community donations and grants,” explains Brewer.

One big misconception, Brewer explains, is that youth do not “choose” to be homeless.  She says the vast majority comes from generational poverty, and many suffer abuse and tumultuous home lives. 

“I hate that term ‘throw away youth’… hate it.  But I think it’s an accurate description of how these kids feel.  And they’re kids.  You know our average age of first time homeless youth in Springfield is between 15 ½ and 16 years old,” says Brewer.

Registration for the Springfield Sleepout begins at 2 p.m. on Friday and the event runs through 7 a.m. Saturday morning.  Brewer says you can also register in advanceonline.  The Sleepout will be held at Wesley United Methodist Church, 922 West Republic Road.

Rare Breed is part of the Kitchen Inc., which is also raising awareness during events beginning this weekend to address veteran homelessness.

The Kitchen, Inc.’s Home at Last – Supportive Services for Veteran Families team, will be participating in the following events:

Southwest Missouri Veterans Day Parade – Saturday, Nov. 8, 10:00 a.m.

North Springfield Betterment Association – Thursday, Nov. 13, 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Theresa received her undergraduate degree in sociology at Missouri State University, as well as her Master's degree in Social Work at MSU. Theresa enjoys writing, drawing, reading, music, working with animals, and most of all spending time with her family. She wishes to continue to use her experiences, combined with her pursuit of education, to foster a sense of empowerment and social awareness in the community. Theresa loves working with KSMU and attributes her passion for NPR, and love of learning, to her father.