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Iowa Youths Experience Homelessness


Youth group members and leaders of First Christian Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, simulated the plight of homeless people when they spent 12 hours sleeping outdoors on a frigid November night.

The group tried to understand the indignities homeless people are forced to endure by digging in a dumpster, begging for food, and sleeping in boxes.

Greg Vander Wal, 18, said the sleeping conditions in the 2-by-2-by-5-foot box were the worst aspect of the experience. “I was very cramped,” he said. “I basically had to lie in the same position.”

“We’re not naïve enough to believe that one night in a cardboard box in the cold is enough to see what it’s like to be homeless, but it did open some eyes,” said leader Val Van Kooten. “The next morning the kids were hungry, cold, and dirty.”

Vander Wal was reflective about the struggles. “If it was that uncomfortable for one night, what would it be like to live like that for weeks?”

The event was only one aspect of raising awareness. Several participants fasted for 24 hours before the sleepover. The group also studied a week’s worth of devotions and participated in a prayer service.

As part of the project, the youths also contributed items to a shelter for homeless youths and worked at a local food distribution center.

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