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Roof-Sleeping

Casey Robbins, 17

It all started during an assembly at school when the issue of homelessness caught my attention. Soon, in an attempt to raise money for and awareness of the homeless, I had committed to spend 100 nights—from September 15 to December 24—sleeping on the roof of our church parsonage.

devozine 100_1501After the dates were set, I sent a letter to all the members of the church, asking them to pledge money for each night I slept on the roof. By September 15, my tent was ready and I was excited to begin. I kept these items in my tent: a lantern, an eggshell mat, a couple of Calvin and Hobbes books, a Bible, and 260 pounds of sand bags to keep the tent from blowing off the roof. To get to my tent, I had to climb out of a study window; but once on the roof, I had a bird’s-eye view of the Minneapolis skyline.

 

I loved it outside; the weather was perfect—for a while. In October it began to get pretty cold, so I added a few more sleeping bags and a hot water bottle for my feet. Then November brought snow. I had to dash from the window to my frost-covered tent, but I stayed outside on those Minnesota winter nights; and many people doubled their pledges for every night the temperature dipped below zero. I did survive 100 nights; but on a few of those nights, shivering in my sleeping bag, I wondered why I was outside in a tent in –15 degree weather when a warm, empty bed waited inside.

 

devozine 100_1496.jpgBefore roof-sleeping, I did not understand what it meant to be a homeless person. I can’t say I fully understand now. Yes, I was cold and I slept outside; but I had a home and a bed to return to. And yet, this experience of being homeless changed me. My tent became a symbol to me and to others that there are homeless people who live among us, forgotten and neglected.



Wealth and Poverty

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After the 100 nights, I spent a semester in Paraguay as an exchange student. I lived with a Paraguayan family and went to a Paraguayan school. I witnessed more poverty than I had ever seen before. Out of the fifty students in my classroom, perhaps three could afford to buy textbooks. On my way to school, I saw five-year-old children selling bananas on the bus and mothers, with babies in their arms, cleaning windshields at busy intersections. Cardboard villages spread out just beyond the capitol building. Rich and poor lived side by side.

The same is true in American cities. How can we walk city streets without seeing the injustice—without taking action to change the situation? Many of us believe that homeless people are responsible for their homelessness, that they are lazy drug addicts who never made an effort to get an education or to find a job. However, in Minnesota, forty-one percent of homeless adults are fully employed but cannot find affordable housing. Our false stereotypes help us to excuse our negligence.

As I write, it is September 15—a year later—and I am wishing I were in my tent again. I am glad that I took up the challenge. Hopefully, I raised the awareness of poverty and homelessness in Minneapolis. Now I have to figure out what is next for me.

DIG DEEPER

And what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8b (NRSV)

Sometimes, trying to follow the example of Christ seems overwhelming. When I don’t know what to do, I use this verse to guide me. I don’t think there is a simpler way to explain what it means to be faithful.

REFLECT: How are you being challenged “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”?

Check out this video to learn more about Casey’s roof-sleeping experience.

Casey Robbins, 17 , a high school senior in Minneapolis, Minnesota, tries to stay involved.

—from devozine (March/April 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Upper Room Ministries. All rights reserved.
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