Homelessness affects millions of people in the United States each day. Photo by Daniel Terry
Homelessness affects millions of people in the United States each day. Photo by Daniel Terry

He sits beneath a lamppost on N. Tryon Street, his hands clasped together to hold in warmth. He raises his balled hands to his mouth and blows hot air into his palms.

The heat from his breath comes and goes quickly; the exposed skin at the holes in his thin gloves stings as the winter Charlotte air rushes back against his hands.

For this man, and countless other men, women and children in Charlotte, N.C., homelessness is a daily struggle.

For them, there is no guarantee of a next meal or a warm place to sleep tonight.

UNC Charlotte’s chapter of Phi Beta Sigma has worked for over two decades to help the homeless population of Charlotte through their annual philanthropy event, Sleepout for the Homeless.

Friday, Jan. 11, from 6 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. Saturday, students from across campus and members of the Charlotte community are invited to spend the night outside in the cold with the Rho Gamma Chapter in the courtyard between Lynch and Wallis Halls.

Participants are encouraged to bring donations of clothing, canned goods and non-perishable foods to the event for donation to the homeless.

Saturday morning the donations will be transported to the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte’s uptown location on N. Tryon Street.

“Once [3 or 4 a.m.] rolls around, when that cold hits you, with nobody out there to run around with and warm up with, you’ve really got to huddle up. You really feel like you’re homeless. The mission is to stay outside all night, and it’s January, coldest month of the year. It really makes you appreciate everything,” said Kamal Shaw, a dual-member of the fraternity’s undergraduate and graduate chapters, having graduated last May but returning for another degree this year.

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“Those last four hours are really tough. From being in the cold and trying to keep warm to going down there and seeing people who really don’t have anything. It really makes you appreciate everything that you have.”

The experience is emotional for many participants, according to Shaw. As the night continues and the experience becomes more real for participants, many become thankful for the things that they have.

“Once 3 a.m. comes, that’s when it really gets to you. Last year, usually not many people stay that long, but we had this one girl in particular. It really hit her,” said Shaw.

“She was like, ‘I couldn’t imagine going through this every night.’ You can see the look on everybody’s faces.”

When 6 a.m. on Saturday approaches, participants will pack up all of the donations and transport them to the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.

“They’re constantly like, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ It’s just constant thanks. With the canned goods it really got me last year,” said Shaw.

Each year the amount of donations the fraternity provides to the Men’s Shelter increases and Shaw hopes to continue the trend this year.

“In 2011 we had three car loads full of stuff. Last year we had five. This year we’re hoping to get at least two more cars. I remember at one time we weren’t getting anything. If we can get at least three again I’ll be happy,” said Shaw.

The biggest thing to take away from the event, says Shaw, is how fortunate many people are.

“People that complain about not having this or not having that, at least they have a roof over their head,” said Shaw.

“You get back in your bed around 7 a.m. and you just think, ‘Man, I’m glad for everything that I have.’”

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Eden Creamer was the Editor-in-Chief for the Niner Times from May 2013 through April 2015. She graduated from UNC Charlotte in May 2015, receiving her degree in Communication Studies with minors in English, Journalism and Women's Studies. She now does freelance proofing, copywriting and design in the Charlotte area, and can be reached at edencreamer@gmail.com

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