Sleep out for homeless honors Wes Warren

By Erika Mahoney

May 2, 2014 Updated May 2, 2014 at 12:42 PM EDT

Town of Dickinson, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Instead of books and iPods lying in the grass of SUNY Broome's quad, there were tents and sleeping bags Thursday night.

The school's annual Sleep Out for the Homeless challenges students in a unique way: It challenges them to experience a sliver of the adversity those without a home face.

In 2013, at least 949 people experienced homelessness at some point in Broome County, according to the Rescue Mission.

"Homelessness does not define someone," Rescue Mission Case Manager Rebecca Rathmell said. "So the people we work with everyday are people, it's not their label, they're not just homeless, they're not just addicts. They get so many labels, but those are myths."

Take Vernon Boyd, for example.

"I was a tennis pro for 20 years and played some semi-pro basketball as well as professional boxing," Boyd said. "But drug addiction and loss of a job ... it left me homeless."

Boyd came out Thursday to show his support and show that when you fall, people are ready to help.

For the past five years, students have pitched tents and constructed shelters to spend a full night under the stars.

One former professor, no matter the weather, opted to sleep on a bench. That man was Wes Warren, who passed away in February.

"He is with us here in spirit, I know that," SUNY Broome professor Doug Garnar said.

Warren was very passionate about this event and his legacy lives on. For the first time, Warren's daughter decided to participate.

"I'm definitely here to support his memory and this awesome event," Katelyn Warren said.

Students dedicated this year's event to Warren and released balloons to send him their love.

"I know he's here with us and proud of us for continuing on and that's what he would want, but we're definitely missing him," Rae Palmer-Jones said. Palmer-Jones looked up to Warren and has been participating in the event since it started.

There are five housing options for those experiencing homelessness in Broome County. To donate to the organizations, call (607) 624-7431.