A nonprofit in Kalispell is trying to get a hundred people to sleep outside Saturday to raise money and awareness about youth homelessness.
Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana estimates 350 high school students in the area struggle to find a safe, stable place to sleep at night.
Kalispell is predicted to drop to the low 20s Saturday night. Jeremy Dear-Ruel, director of Sparrow’s Nest, wants people to imagine what it would be like to sleep outside in those temperatures, then wake up to go to school the next day.
"It's a valuable insight, a glimpse into the life of one of our students," he says.
Sparrow’s Nest offers housing and case management support for high school students in the greater Flathead Valley.
Its fifth annual “When the Night Comes” fundraiser will feature a soup kitchen provided by the Flathead Valley Community College Culinary Arts Program before participants hunker down to spend the night in cars, tents or cardboard boxes to experience a night without a home.
"We've taken in kids who have lived in homeless shelters with parents," says Jamie Pollard, Sparrow's Nest's development and outreach director. "We've taken in kids who've lived out of cars. We've taken in kids who have been thrown out of their house and are couchsurfing. And we have taken in students who have an unstable living environment due to some sort of parental breakdown -- emotional, physical, domestic violence, drug abuse."
Jeremy Dear-Ruel says youth homelessness is a largely invisible but widespread issue. He remembers a past sleep out when one of his students told his life story to participants around a campfire.
"There was definitely tears in people's eyes rolling down as they were listening to him share his experience of homelessness," he says. "That does not define who he is. It's just an experience."
Sparrow’s Nest hopes its event will raise $100,000 this year.
“When the Night Comes” kicks off at 5 Saturday night. Registration details can be found here.