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16th annual homelessness encampment helps raise awareness for homelessness

KIFI/Linda Larsen

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI)- For the past 16 years, Pocatello's Caldwell Park has hosted a special event during the first weekend in December.

The park provides the backdrop for the Annual Aid for Friends Homeless Encampment. The Pocatello Homeless Shelter invites people to learn what homeless people go through in the heart of an Idaho Winter.

Sarah was one of the participants of the homeless encampment. "I decided I wanted to do this because  I wanted to have the experience of knowing what it's like not having a home," she said.

Sarah says the experience is also eyeopening. "I learned that they often do not have much warmth and they freeze, especially during the winter months."

Sarah was just one of the many participants in the pop up box city in the park. Jefferey Joe another participant has been involved in the encampment since it started 16 years ago. He says that after a winter survivalist expert helped them learn how to do things safely, they were ready to walk a mile in the homeless' shoes.

"This is probably the fifth time I slept out in the park. And every time probably, at around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, I'm gone. Why am I doing this? And it's like it's it's that moment where you're just in that box and you're just you're kind of cold and you're uncomfortable. You're not in your nice bed, and you go, well, you know, this is this is just me trying to experience what it's like for others who aren't as fortunate," Sarah said.

He adds that some have really made it a point to be a participant in the event over the years. "There have been some people who've done this over ten times and I really tip my hat to them."

Jessica Buckley says participating in the event was life changing. "I don't think that people understand how how much people are up against when they are homeless. They are fighting to just stay alive, let alone figure out where they're going to sleep. And for someone who is fully unsheltered that they are just trying to survive. And there's so many things that you don't think about until we just get a little taste here."

She adds, "this is something that is special that the city allows us to do, but it's not something that is usual. So we get we just get a little glimpse into the the life of someone who is unsheltered in Idaho in the middle of winter."

During the encampment besides the warm winter clothes the participants bring with them along with any other blankets the only other source of warmth was a nearby fire bin the shelter added to warmth. It helped Tennison understand their efforts. "They don't have a bed to sleep in, and it's really cold outside. So, I mean, you have to have, like, a lot of layers to stay comfy," she said.

Michael Sampson says laying in the boxes is an importance of the message. "We have the luxury or the the opportunity that if we get too miserable, we can get up and go make it right. It's just like getting up and going home. The main thing is that we have a home and and you're laying there in a cardboard box. And no matter how cold you're getting, you think, if I were homeless, I can't go. I have no nowhere else to go. I don't have those choices."

The encampment helps the shelter in their efforts to provide aid to those without homes, the encampment also functions as a fundraiser. The encampment does this through pledges that people get as they prepare to sleep in the cold.

Sampson says that their efforts are not going to end after the encampment. "But the the operation continues year round so we're in need all year long of help and support from their community."

He says if you want to help, one way is to save the date. "After hearing this, mark it on your calendar and we try to get the word out early so we can get people to pick up packets and pledge and try to get prepared for it."

Joe adds, "they can sponsor people who will do this." Buckley adds, "It really does take a community to get people housed. So I think that I think that things like this give a little bit more understanding to to the folks that we need to reach who might have those resources for us to get people housed again."

If you want to participate in the encampment or donate to the shelter you can find more information here.

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Braydon Wilson

Braydon is a reporter for Local News 8 and Eyewitness News 3.

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