DES MOINES, Iowa - In its 10th year, Reggie's Sleepout has gotten bigger and better than before. And that's a good thing, because the issue of homeless youth in Iowa is still as pertinent as it was 10 years ago.
"We estimate there are around 13,000 homeless individuals in the state, and around 1,600 of those are under the age of 18" said Toby O'Berry, director for Iowa Homeless Youth Centers. "That number has stayed around the same, but tracking homeless youth is difficult, because they come and they go, and they disguise themselves a lot of the time."
Reggie's Sleepout honors Reggie Kelsey, a homeless boy from Des Moines who organizers say "slipped through the cracks" after leaving the shelter. He was found dead by the Des Moines River in 2001.
"Reggie really represents the issues all homeless youth in Iowa face," O'Berry said.
Now, hundreds of people from across the Greater Des Moines Metro turn out to Drake Stadium every year to construct their own cardboard homes to live in overnight in solidarity with Reggie Kelsey and every other homeless youth in the state.
"We raise around $140,000 every year through the event, and the average gift is $50," O'Berry said. "It's really friends asking friends, and community members asking other community members. It's a grassroots fundraising effort."
One group from Johnston High School turn out each year to try and out-do themselves, as well. Last year, the group constructed a large barn and grain silo structure from cardboard. This year, they decided to erect a gigantic 15-foot Converse tennis shoe.
"For me personally, I think it's just a great crossover of my passions," said group leader Eric Francois. "I love helping people, giving back to the community, and it's great for - I'm into engineering and stuff, so I think where those two kind of crossover just naturally was a great project for me to work on, and a lot of the guys have the same opinion, I think."
Francois' group kept with the shoe theme by hosting a shoe drive at their school leading up to the event, as well. They were able to collect around 50 pair of shoes to donate to the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers. In addition, runners in the Des Moines Marathon Sunday morning will run around the cardboard homes in Drake Stadium, and any clothes or shoes runners get rid of during the race will be donated to the organization.
"We're expecting to beat what we raised last year," O'Berry said.
Reggie's Sleepout began Saturday afternoon and goes until 8 a.m. Sunday morning. If you'd like to support the event or donate after the fact, visit the group's website here.