Students raise funds for homeless vets

For much of the past week, the lawn between the Muenster University Center and the Al Neuharth Media Center has been the site of what appears to be a community of homeless people living out of cardboard boxes.

USD Veterans Club members Blaine Reynolds and Eric Gage warm themselves by a fire Tuesday evening while participating in the first annual Homeless Veterans Campout, held on the university campus this week. "It's hard to believe how quickly it cools off once the sun starts to go down," Gage said. (Photo by David Lias)

In actuality, it is a group of students and volunteers who hope to bring awareness to homelessness among United States military veterans.

Sponsored by the USD Veterans Club, the first annual Homeless Veterans Campout which began Monday and concludes Friday also is designed to raise funds for the cause, and specifically Berakhah House of Sioux Falls.

Its similar to a walkathon, but instead of getting pledges for miles walked, were getting pledges for hours were spending homeless, said the events committee chair Blaine Edwards.

The campout is not part of a national program, but something the members of the Veterans Club came up with themselves.

I was actually just working on House Bill 1196, doing some research for that, Reynolds said. That was the one for veterans resource centers on campus. And in doing some of my research I found some statistics that kind of bothered me, like only 8 percent of the population can call themselves veterans, but 23 percent of the homeless population are veterans.

Reynolds said the club also wanted to do something to benefit Berakhah House.

Its an outreach of Volunteers of America, he said. Basically its a place where homeless veterans can come. They set you up for 90 days and try and help you find a job, and get you back on track.

I thought they were a pretty good organization and that we could do something for them, he said.

Before the event started, Reynolds said he was not sure how many students would take part.

I guess most of the Vets Club members are going to take part, he said. Were leaving this open for anybody (to participate), kind of like the Dance Marathon. I think its going to depend on the weather.

Set-up of the makeshift homeless community commenced Monday.

You check in and you grab your box and you get your stuff set up, Reynolds said. Your home can be made out of the supplies we provide you we have some big oversize boxes and anything you can find in the dumpsters.

Funds toward the cause were taken through donations, as well as pledges for number of hours spent homeless. Sign-out sheets were on hand for students who had to leave the grounds for work and class commitments.

The USD Veterans Club is planning on staging another campout next year.

This year, were just kind of feeling it out, seeing how it is, Reynolds said. Well probably change some things to adjust to the situation.

Staging an event like this really helps to bring the issue home for students, he added.

In the state of South Dakota, its hard to realize that there is a large veterans homeless population that theres a large homeless population in general, he said. According to the VA, there are 260 homeless vets in Sioux Falls alone. I know it sounds a little odd, but dressing up as homeless vets on campus, maybe itll make people think a little bit.

To make a donation to the camp-out or for more information about the USD Veterans Club, e-mail vetsclub@usd.edu.

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