By Joe Barker
Union Missourian Editor
Personal stories and interactive activities were the highlights of The Road Home event.
The second-ever homelessness awareness and simulation event took over the football field at Union High School Friday night and Saturday morning.
The event is aimed at educating the community about homelessness and the struggles homeless individuals go through on a day-to-day basis.
“I think it went pretty well,” event founder Josie Arens said. “I think all our feedback was really good.”
Arens founded the event last year as part of a school project her senior year. This year, with Arens off at Fontbonne University, the event was organized by Jireh Ministries’ SafeKids program.
Last year’s event was dampened by rain and activities were forced inside, but that wasn’t the case Friday night. The temperature was crisp for a spring night, but there wasn’t a drop of rain to be found.
The event kicked off with local nonprofits organizations hosting booth and sharing information about their organizations.
“All the service providers had a great discussion,” said Mark Moebius, Jireh Ministries’ president. “That was one of the things I enjoyed the most.”
As the sun began to set, it was time for the guest speakers. Both Arens and Moebius said the speakers were probably the high point of the night.
“We had some amazing speakers this year,” Arens said.
Katelyn Clements stole the show. The area high school student revealed she was homeless — a fact she had been struggling with sharing.
Clements said she became homeless after leaving her abusive home situation. She said one of her parents struggled with substance abuse and the living situation became untenable and she had to leave.
A cheerleader at her school, Clements said on the outside she tried to pretend nothing was wrong. Inside, she was in turmoil. She encouraged people to talk to their friends and look for warning signs of unhappiness.
“It was just so honest,” Moebius said. “Usually people in that situation don’t want people to know what’s going on.”
Clements was joined by Ladonna Ellis and Mrs. United States Lauren Zigler. Ellis talked about how bad the homeless problem was and how people need to help.
Zigler shared facts about connection between human trafficking and homelessness. Also sharing thoughts were state Reps. Nate Tate and Bruce Franks Jr.
Tate, a Republican, said he was invited to speak at the event, but wasn’t sure what to say. He invited his friend Franks, a Democrat.
Franks shared his story of his struggle growing up. He talked about the time he was homeless.
Franks said homelessness and poverty is a partisan issue where everyone needs to work together to address. He said it’s important to teach everyone to love.
After the speeches, the participants took part in the Game of Life. Participants role-played homeless individuals trying to get employment, education and shelter before getting hauled out of the city limits for violating vagrancy laws.
The Road Home was held to show people some of the obstacles homeless individuals face on a day-to-day basis. Several participants expressed shock at just how hard it was to do things like get a job, find a place to stay and afford food.
The event also discussed Privilege Race, another simulator. This one was designed to show how certain people have certain advantages.
The event also featured service projects and then a lockout. A handful of participants decided to spend the night.
Moebius said he stuck around and slept in his car.
“It was quite an eye-opening experience,” he said. “That experience really made me think.”
This year was a passing of the baton of sorts. Away at college, Arens was unable to devote as much time planning the event, and SafeKids took over.
Arens said she thinks things are in good hands moving forward.
Moebius said he’s already thinking about year No. 3. He said his goal next year is to get more officials from the community involved.
“A lot of people just don’t know how many kids that we have that need a place to go,” he said.