September 22, 2013
Dozens of University of Virginia students traded in their beds for sleeping bags Sunday night as the 8th annual Sleepout for the Homeless got underway.
The two-night event, organized by UVa's Jewish Social Justice Council, is all about raising awareness for homelessness in the area.
"On a given night, there are 150 to 200 people that are homeless in the Charlottesville area," said Callum Weinberg of the Jewish Social Justice Council. "You certainly don't see that many people on The Corner or the Downtown Mall."
Students wanted to focus the attention on the sometimes hidden homeless population by turning one of the university's busiest areas into a campground.
"In addition to all the information the students are getting and the pamphlets we're handing out, they're actually living it," said Elizabeth Heifetz of the Jewish Social Justice Council.
A handful of tents lined the McCormick Amphitheater, where the participating students will stay until Tuesday afternoon.
"The Amphitheater is basically the center of the center of the center grounds," said Heifetz.
Organizers hope the central location will help spread their message.
"When people walk by the Amphitheater tonight, tomorrow, tomorrow night, they're going to be like, 'Why are those kids sleeping out in tents there?' said Weinberg "It's just a really great way to get people interested and get them to ask more."
Instead of s'mores and a campfire, the students are passing the time with guest speakers and dialogue.
"Seeing these people come in, ask questions, be very, very involved, immersed in the subject, actually share stories, be very emotionally invested in it, that's really something," said Heifetz.
The campers reached out to family and friends to sponsor their participation in the event. All of the money raised from this year's event will be donated to Virginia Supportive Housing to support The Crossings in Charlottesville -- a facility that houses homeless and low-income clients.
Over the years, the Sleepout has helped raised more than $25,000 for various local homeless organizations.
As of Sunday evening, the group had already raised more than $900, surpassing their goal.
Organizers say, while the money is always pumped back into an organization that supports the area's homeless population, educating people can make an even longer-lasting change.
"Raising money can put a Band-Aid on a problem. What we really want is for UVa students to be aware of their daily lives -- 'Hi, there's a homeless person here. What an I do to make a difference?'" said Jewish Social Justice Council member Haley Swartz.
For more information about the event, click HERE.