Teenagers think inside of the box
November 23, 2010
By Laura Geggel
Cold campout raises awareness of homelessness
Even after spending more than an hour building her cardboard box house and sleeping with nothing but cardboard and a sleeping bag between her and the raw outside, Kristin Dietzel was ready to tackle the day’s challenges as a temporary homeless minor.
But, as the day wore on, Dietzel, an eighth-grade student at Beaver Lake Middle School, found herself growing tired. She had fasted for 24 hours, gone digging through Dumpsters for meals, walked door to door for a food drive and panhandled outside a grocery store in Issaquah, all on the cold, gray day of Nov. 13.
She and 23 other students learned about homelessness in a 24-hour activity called Box Out, held by the Faith United Methodist Church youth group. Director of Youth Ministries Robert Seybold started the program seven years ago, but this is the first year he has organized it in Issaquah.
For Seybold, homelessness is a personal issue. As a teenager growing up in Yakima, he was homeless on and off for three years.
“I just remember what it was like to have to cover myself up with cardboard boxes whenever it would be raining or snowing,” he said. “I would grab plastic bags from the grocery store to prevent them from getting wet.”
Sometimes, he would couch surf with friends, but they could not always provide him a place to stay. On a cold night sleeping in an alley, he made a vow that he would give back to people if only he could get back on his feet.
Seybold pulled himself out of homelessness by getting his GED, working at a Dairy Queen and finding a studio with cheap rent.
Now, as a youth minister, Seybold encourages his students to help the needy during outreach programs once a month, like feeding the hungry in Capitol Hill or Pioneer Square.
He started Box Out as a more hands-on and intense way of teaching youths about homelessness. The lesson was not lost on them, he said, nor is it a concept foreign to Issaquah or the Eastside.
There are 95 registered homeless students in the Issaquah School District, Dennis Wright, director of career and counseling services said. If a student becomes homeless, the district abides by the federal McKinney-Vento law and transports the student to his or her original school.
“The whole idea is kids are more successful when they’re going through hard times if they’re staying in their school of origin,” Wright said. “A lot of times when your world is turned upside down, the school is the most stable place.”
During the 2010 One Night Count of Unsheltered Homeless, organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, volunteers counted 141 homeless people living in Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond, 1,986 living in Seattle and 2,759 living in King County.
Actual homeless counts are likely three times as large, Hopelink Director of Housing and Asset Building Meghan Altimore said.
“It is a sobering picture of how many people are homeless in our communities,” she said.
Issaquah did not participate in the count, she added.
Box Out lessons
As of Nov. 19, the Faith United Methodist Church youth group has raised about $4,400, 60 blankets and about 40 bags on nonperishable food.
Even before Box Out began, students began raising money. They needed $100 to participate in the event. The donations will go to local food banks and soup kitchens, as well as nonprofit organizations where the students volunteer.
“So many of these organizations are really hurting and are barely getting by,” Seybold said. “Instead of just helping hands, we can help financially.”
When the night of Box Out arrived, students gathered in the church parking lot, assembling their boxes out of cardboard, duct tape and tarp.
Wes Eason, a student at Issaquah High School, said he is used to camping out with the Boy Scouts, but staying in a cardboard box was harder.
“It was different, because you had to make the shelter instead of just putting it together,” he said.
But the hardest part for him wasn’t the cardboard box or panhandling for money.
It was “the digging through the Dumpsters for the food, because there was some gross food in there and I wouldn’t have wanted to eat it,” Eason said.
Dietzel reported having found a stack of moldy bread and half-eaten, mostly raw steaks in a Dumpster. She noticed people’s jaws drop as they watched her dig through the Dumpster, and it taught her a valuable lesson.
“We learned how not to judge people by what their situation is, because maybe they’re not in the best place right now,” she said.
During the panhandling, “A lot of people were giving us dirty looks,” Skyline High School student Tyler Larson said.
After seeing the students ask for donations, some people would make a judgment call and go to the other set of doors, a behavior youth team leader Lisa Gaston recognized in herself, which she has now decided to stop, she said.
At the end of the day, students broke their fast with a dinner of barbecued ribs and mashed potatoes. Seybold said he hopes none of them will know what it really means to be homeless, but said 24 hours of it would help them grasp the challenges.
Skyline student Kimmy Larson said she has gone on many mission trips, and Box Out helped her understand homelessness more than ever.
“I definitely want to help them more, because being in their situation made it more real for me,” she said. “Even talking to them helps.”
How to help
Give a tax-deductible donation to the Box Out program here. All of funds go directly to help families and individuals in great need or who are homeless.
Support nonprofit organizations to help the homeless in Issaquah and throughout the region:
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.