FAIRBANKS — University of Alaska Fairbanks students are putting their ideals to the test this week as they camp out and stand in the cold to combat homelessness.
The UAF Honors Student Council sponsors and participates in the event, designed to raise awareness about homelessness and raise money for homeless programs. Students will maintain a continuous presence for six days outside Constitution Hall on the UAF campus, sleeping in tents at night and huddling around a small barrel fire by day, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Thursday.
Students sign up for several hours of daytime participation or for the 13-hour overnight shift, which starts at 8 p.m. and ends at 9 a.m. the next morning. Overnight campers are equipped with sleeping bags and cold-weather gear from the UAF Outdoor Adventures Program, which provides high-quality outdoor gear to students.
Fairbanks International Airport recorded a temperature of 35 degrees below zero Tuesday night, a new record low. Overnight temperatures were expected to reach 37 below Wednesday night, warming up to 30 below Thursday night. Daytime temperatures for Friday, the last day of the event, are expected to reach a balmy 19 degrees below zero.
This is the third year of participation for Celia Miller, who said the event appeals to her on a few levels.
“I don’t think it’s just youthful idealism. I mean, we are kind of out here and having fun. There’s definitely an element of that, of being like ‘OK, we’re tough enough, we’re committed enough, we can do this.’ But at the same time, you know, we’re out here because we believe in it. If it was just like, ‘Hey, let’s camp out on campus for a week,’ we wouldn’t be out here,” Miller said.
Emily Smola, a junior from Soldotna, said she is participating because she has “incredible amounts of empathy” toward homeless people, especially those struggling to exist in cold climates.
“Are you kidding me? I’m freezing! I can’t even imagine living like this all the time, and I have this,” she said, indicating the barrel fire. “I can’t even imagine not having warmth. I mean, I go inside and I don’t really think about it. It’s just there, and I do take it for granted.” Smola said.
This is the fifth year of having a homelessness awareness event, but only the fourth year that students have camped overnight in a “tent city” said Blake Eggemeyer, a self-described fifth-year-senior and computer science major who organized the event this year. He has participated every year since the event’s inception, but this will likely be his last since he will be graduating next spring. Eggemeyer explained that maintaining interest in the event may be difficult as students come and go, but he’s fairly certain that the event will continue.
“We don’t have a very good institutional memory, and so the administration gets to be our institutional memory for us, and remind councils that something happened last year or the year before, and they might consider doing it again,” Eggemeyer said.
All money raised this week will go to the Street Outreach and Advocacy Program, which is run by Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption.