Braving the Cold for a Cause

Photo courtesy of Student Veteran Association
Columbia students bring awareness to veteran homelessness by participating in the 24-hour SleepOut.

Columbia College Chicago’s Student Veteran Association is fighting to end veteran homelessness in Chicago with the fourth annual 24-Hour Veteran SleepOut fundraiser. On December 9, Columbia student veterans and advocates will spend 24 hours outdoors in the Sculpture Garden braving the sub-40 degree weather to raise awareness and funds for the Remake the World (RTW) Veteran Center, an organization assisting South Side veterans.

The RTW Veteran Center is committed to providing “basic services and support to the hungry, homeless and veteran populations in the South Side of Chicago.” The center focuses on three key programs: basic needs of humanity, healing broken warriors and redeveloping communities. Each program assists with provisions that rehabilitate the veterans whether it’s providing a free meal, counseling, entrepreneurial support or community service.

Cinema Art and Science student, veteran and organizer Julio Lopez says the inspiration for the event “comes from helping our fellow veterans who served just as we did.” According to Lopez, the U.S. has 49,000 homeless veterans with more than two-thirds serving in combat and 90% retired under honorable discharge. “There is no excuse for these vets to come home and go hungry or cold.” This is the second year Columbia has supported the organization by hosting the event on campus. This year, the sleep out is projected to have 25 participants consisting of Columbia students, RTW veterans and volunteers from The Mission Continues Chicago Service Platoons, a non-profit organization on the South Side empowering veterans through community service.

The student-led fundraiser aims to raise $50,000 for the RTW Veteran Center using the crowd-funding site CrowdRise and social media. Participants are encouraged to bring appropriate weather gear, a sleeping bag and a blanket. Limited tents are provided for students not wanting to be fully immersed in the cold weather, but the majority go without a tent to emphasize the reality that most homeless veterans are exposed to freezing temperatures. Lopez says “This event is not just for students or veterans, it’s for anyone who is passionate about raising awareness about homeless veterans in Chicago and abroad.” While a hot chocolate or coffee is appreciated to keep warm throughout the event, donations are encouraged through the CrowdRise fundraiser so funds can be given to the organizations assisting veterans.