A cold fall night is not one many of us would want to spend sleeping outside, but it's a reality for homeless people across Vermont. Students in St. Albans are trying to raise awareness about the problem by leaving home for a place that might surprise you.
The BFA-St. Albans National Honor Society called cardboard boxes homes Thursday night.
"It is not easy, this is my second year doing it," explained student Ryan Connor.
Forty of the group's members made the move to their makeshift shelters at the Hard'ack Recreational Area for the overnight.
"I'm kind of claustrophobic," said student Summer Averill.
The unique learning opportunity is called "Shanty Night."
"We don't have running water, we don't have heat, I mean we don't have good shelter, I mean if you have a hole in your tarp and it is raining, you're going to have water running through your box," Connor explained.
The event is designed to teach the kids what it's like to be homeless.
"If it rains there's a chance that it is just going to completely soak our boxes," Averill said.
An annual one-day count of Vermont's homeless population in 2012 had that number at more than 2,800 people-- up from about 2,300 people in 2008.
"You don't see it as much in the community just walking around but it does exist and you will see it if you hang around long enough," said Connor
Each of the kids is really asked to rough it inside their makeshifts homes, things like cardboard, plastic tarps and duct tape are allowed, but space heaters and tents are off limits.
"This is a real-world experience. Kids come out here and they recognize by very early in the morning, by one in the morning exactly what it means to be outside when they don't have the comforts of home, they don't have a tent over their heads," said Glenn McCabe, teacher and advisor.
"This event each year makes me really treasure what I have and how a comfy bed makes a difference," said Averill.
The honor society students hope they can make a difference, as well. They're using the annual tradition to raise money for Tim's House, a shelter in St. Albans that's providing services to dozens of homeless people in that community alone.
"Every day they have to struggle to find a place to sleep and live and what they get to eat," Connor said.
It's a message these young people are taking to heart and they hope it resonates with their classmates and neighbors who aren't spending the night in conditions like this.
"I want them to know that it's not easy doing what homeless people do and they do need assistance," expressed Connor.
The group raised more than $2,000 for Tim's House this year.
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