The coffin, the tunnel and being homeless for one night

Joshua Meribole – Staff Writer

sleepout 3 pc josh merioble

Photos by Joshua Meribole

On a cold and windy Friday, five people stared into the darkness, shivering, wondering how they would get through the night. The temperature sat at 36 degrees with the low for the night estimated at 25 degrees.

“What can I do to raise awareness for homelessness?” is the question junior Caitie Fagen asked when she decided to have the Sioux Center Sleepout. A few people came to listen to the speakers talk about homelessness, but only four Dordt students and a middle-schooler stayed behind to endure the cold.

The girls present for the event built a tunnel to sleep in. The only guy present slept in a long box, which, by the end of the event, they called a coffin.

sleepout 2 pc josh meriobleAfter setting up some last-minute wind and cold fortification with cardboard boxes, they tucked themselves in and went to bed. However, sleep did not come easily as the wind howled and the cold cut into their bones.

“There was definitely a time that I was thinking my toes might fall off,” Fagen said. “Is it worth staying out here if my toes fall off and I have to go to the hospital?”

She managed to make it through the night, but two Dordt students went into the church several times during the night.

Emily Wicker came prepared with several layers of warm clothing, including several layers of socks. Although she felt warm, it was still hard for her to sleep. She was positioned at the end of the box, but when it came open at one point, it made Wicker want to go inside. But it was already 4:00 a.m., so she felt that she could not give up and persevered. The frustration allowed her to get a glimpse of what homeless people go through when they have to sleep like this.

sleepout 4 pc josh meriobleThat week, the temperature had been generous, but on Friday the temperature dropped.

“I was kind of hoping it would be cold,” Fagen said. “I wanted this to be an impactful experience, and the colder it is, the more you are going to remember.” Over the summer, Fagen worked for the Covenant House in Alaska, where she helped with their shelter house for homeless people.

“Growing up, it was always something that I was really saddened by,” Fagen said.

Before people had to endure the harsh reality of Iowa’s bone-numbing winds, Fagen invited two speakers, Dordt graduates Joshua Louwerse and Jesse Walhof, to speak about homelessness. Louwerse was Fagen’s boss during her summer internship, and Walhof works at Living Water Community Church in Sheldon to help the homeless population.

Although a pastor, Walhof did not look the part of a clean-shaven, button-up Sioux County preacher. He wore three-quarter shorts, chain necklaces and a long sleeve shirt.

sleepout pc josh merioble“I wear this because I like to… and it’s more presented to the people I am hoping to minister to,” Walhof said. Throughout his talk, he called for Christians to learn to look at the homeless as people and to treat them as such.

“We put people in positions where we don’t value them as person; we value them as a problem,” Walhof said.

Walhof asked for Christians to be quick not just to give handouts, but to be willing to start a relationships with those who are homeless. He also talked about the misconceptions of homelessness, such as unemployment. Walhof went on to tell a story about a father who did have a job, but found it difficult to pay rent.

“A lot of homeless people don’t live. They just exist,” he said. “Are we as a Church fine with that?”

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