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11th Annual ‘Sleepout’ Sees Success in Stopping Youth Homelessness

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DES MOINES, Iowa - For most at Drake Stadium Saturday night, sleeping under a cardboard roof and weathering the elements is just a fun challenge. But what Reggie's Sleepout represents is anything but fun and games.

"Reggie's Sleepout is named in honor of Reggie Kelsey, a youth who aged out of a foster care system. "Kind of bounced around, didn't really have a lot of support systems, and was found deceased beside the Des Moines River," said Toby O'Berry, director at Iowa Homeless Youth Centers.

The 11th annual 'Sleepout' raises both money and awareness on the issue of Iowa homeless youth.

"Some of our youth will be sleeping out here tonight, blended in with the community members," he said. "It's really a hidden sub-population for homeless, our youth really don't want to be identified in the community. You can kind of spot the chronic individual who's homeless, but for youth, they really blend into the fabric. They might be in coffee shops, or the skywalk, they might have a backpack on."

The event gathers between 1,000 and 1,500 people every year, constructing their cardboard creations while raising more than $100,000 for the cause. But some this year are choosing to make their cardboard homes a political statement.

"We're creating a tiny home village, to kind of emphasize one of the housing options that's trying to get passed through the city council right now," said Dana Bechtold, president of Des Moines University Homeless Community Outreach Club.

Bechtold's group is hoping to raise awareness and public support at Saturday's event for a "tiny house village" proposed by Joppa Outreach, that would house Des Moines' homeless. City officials have had issues agreeing to the idea, citing numerous concerns from neighborhood groups.

"If they find a piece of land, it's often the neighborhood or neighborhood association that doesn't exactly want them there," she said.

Even without a permanent home for Central Iowa's least-fortunate, O'Berry says the new Youth Opportunity Center, opened in downtown Des Moines last spring, has already seen great strides in curbing homeless youth in the area.

"Even on the very first day, when we opened and youth came to access our Youth Opportunity Center, we had 12 kids who weren't even on our radar that came in to get food, and clothing," he said.

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