Students brace for Grate American Sleep Out

November 20, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Although the students' faces were fresh and bright Friday night, they didn't expect to be that way by morning.

Amber Divelbiss, 21, and Jessie Webb, 18, were two of about five students expected to sleep outside Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street as part of an event to bring public awareness to the plight of the homeless.

They were out "just to experience it," Divelbiss said. "In the future, if I'm going to be working with homeless people, I'm going to need ... (to) understand what they've gone through."

The event the two were attending, called The Grate American Sleep Out, is part of an annual nationwide observance. Friday's event was sponsored by the Washington County Task Force on Homelessness.


Divelbiss and Webb had tight grips on cups of coffee about 8 p.m. Both said they are studying social work at Hagerstown Community College. One of their instructors, Frances Cade, also was planning to spend the night.

The sun had been down for awhile, and the temperature had dropped. One of the event organizers announced after a brief opening ceremony that the local fire marshal wouldn't allow a warmth-providing fire in a metal barrel.

The girls said they believed they were prepared anyway.

"It's getting chilly, but I have 12 heating things in my pocket," Webb said. She and Divelbiss both had fuzzy hats, puffy coats, jeans, knee-socks and gloves.

Once they were ready to sleep, there was a set of refrigerator boxes into which they could crawl.

"Boxes are better than nothing," Webb said.

One woman who came to speak at the opening ceremony said she thought the event was worthwhile. That woman, Cantina Patterson, 32, became homeless earlier this year.

Patterson said she has three children, and when her aunt passed away, she had no one to stay with. She stayed with her aunt's friend for some time, but was asked to leave.

Patterson said she told her children she didn't know where they were going to stay that night. Her oldest daughter at first didn't understand the situation.

"She really didn't take it seriously until she saw we was walking," Patterson said. She made a phone call, and a friend was able to pick them up and give them a place to stay for a few weeks.

Since then, Patterson said she's been able to find a job and a shelter and things "are looking fine." She said she hopes to be in her own place within the next three weeks.

She said she hoped the event will make a difference for people, but if it doesn't make a difference for those who didn't attend, "it will make a difference to the people sleeping out here tonight."

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