One Winter Night raises money for the homeless community in CU

Volunteers to spend one cold night sleeping on street to support CU homeless community


Photo courtesy of C-U at Home

Fundraisers promote One Winter Night sponsored by CU at Home. One Winter Night is a fundraiser to help support people that are homeless by giving the community a chance to spend a night outside.

By Megan Bradley, Staff writer

For the sixth year in a row, on Friday, volunteers from around the community will experience a night on the street.

One Winter Night, a CU at Home event, is taking place in downtown Champaign from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. CU at Home is Champaign-Urbana’s nonprofit homelessness ministry. The event helps raise about two-thirds of its annual budget.

“One Winter Night is an education and advocacy event for CU at Home. It is a homeless simulation event where we ask members of the community to sleep outside in a cardboard box to raise money to help the most vulnerable homeless population in Champaign- Urbana,” said Kelly-Jane Monahan, volunteer coordinator.

Those who volunteer to sleep in boxes overnight are called “box-dwellers,” and CU at Home asks each box-dweller to raise $1,000 on a fundraising page. The money is important because CU at Home is a nonprofit organization which relies mainly on One Winter Night for its operating budget each year in order to provide services to the homeless community, whom they refer to as friends without addresses.

One benefit of being a nonprofit organization in this field is the individualized help the organization can offer.

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“We don’t categorize people; we try to help each individual person with what their needs are to help start their life and recovery,” Andrews, housing and outreach assistant, said. “I believe everybody is recovering from something; it’s about addressing the underlying issues.”

Andrews has also been in a similar position himself.

He knows what it is like to be homeless from his experiences couch surfing and living out of his car.

Bill Utnage, a local realtor who raised money for One Winter Night before, will be a box-dweller for the first time this year. Utnage said part of the reason he decided to participate in One Winter Night is because of his real estate background. He makes his living by helping people find homes, so to see those without a place to live really resonates with him.

“I look at it and wonder, am I part of the solution or am I part of the problem? And living in the richest country in the world, and we have people sleeping in the streets and not having meals. To me that should not be,” Utnage said.

Not all volunteers are box-dwellers. People can simply raise money through a fundraising page or volunteer at the event for a few hours without actually sleeping in a box.

CU at Home’s main goal through One Winter Night is to educate the community about homelessness and to get rid of stigmas currently surrounding the issue. The organization has speaker presentations until 10 p.m. to let people know about bigger issues surrounding homelessness in the community.

“A big part of our organization is education and advocacy. We try to educate the community and break down the stigma of homelessness. We don’t look at them as homeless, we look at them as our friends without an address and people in the community are our friends with an address,” Andrews said.

CU at Home has a goal of $230,000 to raise through One Winter Night to suffice their operating budget. Volunteers can raise money on teams or individually. Most volunteers said the best way to raise money is by reaching out to family and friends who can donate online. Donors can also send checks to CU at Home on behalf of a box-dweller.

Utnage is fundraising on the CU Real Estate Team with Natalie Gross. They are confident they will achieve their team goal to raise $5,000.

The event is purposefully held on a February night when it will be cold outside. Box-dwellers will get a true taste of what it is like to be homeless on a winter night and the challenges it poses.

“The challenge is going to be when all your friends leave and go home and get in their warm beds around midnight and you’re out there between midnight and 6 a.m. and the bars let out. And you get the pure experience of a glimpse of what being homeless really looks like,” Utnage said.

Overall, both Andrews and Utnage said they are excited to raise money and awareness about the ongoing problem in Champaign-Urbana and to educate the public about ways to help. They also hope to get people engaged in CU at Home.

CU at Home is still looking for volunteers for the event other than box-dwellers. Anyone interested in learning more about homelessness in the area should go downtown on Feb. 2 to listen to the speakers and to hear more about the issue.

Andrews said he shares the same feelings from his previous years participating in One Winter Night.

“Between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. when you’re curled up in a box and you’re freezing and you’re trying to get some sleep, then you experience that loneliness that no other person ever experienced besides the guy sleeping on the street,” Andrews said. “I mean you’re just out there with some blankets and there’s people who sleep like that every night.”

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