Kristen Squires (far left), DJ Strotman (left), Adam Clawson (middle), George Yurko (right) and Brad Kirkwood (seated) are members of the Board of Veterans Parsonage Shelter.

With the wind whirling and freezing temperatures, it is hard to even step foot outside to get groceries or to go to class. But for many, staying outside is not a choice.

Many veterans experience homelessness. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, there were 37,085 veterans who were homeless in 2019. This is a high number for those who have sacrificed so much to protect the country.

The IUP military service fraternity, Rho Tau Chi (PTX), and members of IUP’s Phi Delta Theta, in collaboration with the Indiana County’s Veteran Parsonage, slept outside Saturday night into Sunday morning to show support of homeless veterans.

“This is my third sleep-out,” CJ Holland (junior, history) said. “I am both a brother of PTX and Phi Delta Theta. I come from a very heavily military family. We’ve seen the struggle. We’ve had it great; we’ve had it not so great.

“So, giving back is something that I really like doing, especially in the military community.”

They did this not only to show solidarity with the homeless veterans but to also collect donations and to raise money. The goal is to collect food, cleaning supplies, toiletries and to raise $4,000. All the proceeds go to the Veteran’s Parsonage so that they can directly help veterans in the Indiana area.

“The whole point of this sleepout event is to raise money for the homeless veteran’s shelter,” said Kristin Squires, the founder of Indiana PA Veterans and Community United. “We don’t receive any federal funding. So, all our funding for programming costs, maintenance, any kind of facility cost is completely fundraised by the community.”

Usually, the event is held during the wintertime during Presidents’ Day weekend. Due to complicating factors of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it was held on Valentine’s day weekend to demonstrate what homeless veterans go through while others may be out celebrating and enjoying a secure environment and home.

“It adds to the visual effect that it is intentionally uncomfortable,” Squires said. “Both visually for the people to see because it’s raw and real.

“Homeless people aren’t just homeless in July or June… So, it’s a raw visual for the people walking by, but it’s also kind of meant to be uncomfortable for us doing it because it helps us kind of garner that level of respect for those who are going through it. It kind of helps remind us why we’re doing this.”

Not only are the temperatures freezing, but the volunteers are not allowed to eat or drink anything that isn’t donated to them. This is to demonstrate how heavily homeless veterans rely on the donations and the kindness of others for basic needs.

“It’s all about the what-ifs,” Bri Priestas (senior, exercise science) said. “What if that was me? This might me temporary pain for us now, but it’s permanent for someone else.

“It might be cold one night, and we’re going to complain, but at the end of the day, there’s someone out there every night doing this. So, it kind of gives us the attitude of we can do this one night to help raise money and awareness for the people that are like this every night.”

“I’m hoping that this brings awareness for the people walking in,” Kloey Peterson (freshman, nursing) said. “That they’ll be able to see that this is really what some veterans, the people that defended our country, go through. And that they’ll say, ‘Oh, we can help them.’”

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