Minnesota Teen Sleeps Out in Sub Zero Weather to Help Homeless

Peter Larson, 17, sleeps out in frigid weather each winter to help the homeless.

ByABC News
December 30, 2011, 9:13 AM

Dec. 30, 2011— -- Where did you spend the holidays? With your family? By a tree? Warmed by a cozy fire?

What about in a cardboard box in frigid temperatures, with nothing more than a 40-year-old sleeping bag and a warm hat?

"It was like every other day," said Peter Larson, 17. "It just happened to be Christmas."

Larson isn't homeless. But thanks to Larson's work "Sleeping Out," there are hundreds of Americans who spent the holidays under a warm, safe roof.

When he was just 6, Larson's cub scout group, led by his father, Bruce Larson, spent one night sleeping inside tents in the cold Minnesota winter. They were inspired by Bob Fischer, who years earlier started sleeping outside every night of the holiday season to heighten awareness about homelessness and to raise money for the county's impoverished residents through the area's Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners.

Unlike the other scouts, however, Larson wasn't thankful to pack up his sleeping bag and take his shivering body inside. He wanted to do it again, and again, and again.

"I was only in first grade," Larson said, "but when Bob said that $500 could keep a family in their home for a month, I thought 'Hey! I can do that.'"

That year, Larson failed. He only raised $100. The next year, however, he trudged through the snow with a cardboard box, determined to raise awareness of homelessness and double the amount he raised.

Those hundreds of dollars grew to thousands. By the beginning of high school Larson's annual goal was $100,000 and he was sleeping outside 45 days a year to raise it, no matter what the elements.

"A few years ago it was minus 23 degrees outside," Larson, now a senior in high school, recalled. "The people at IOCP called me to say that I didn't have to stay out, but homeless families wouldn't have a place to go, would they? Yeah, it was really, really cold, but I made a commitment and if I didn't stay out, IOCP wouldn't have the help and a family might not have a home."

Jill Kohler of IOCP estimates that Larson's work has touched over 1,000 families in Hennepin County, Minn.

"Now, it takes $672 a month to keep a family in their home," Kohler said, "and it would take over $3,000 a month and a lot of turmoil to have them out and in a homeless shelter. But, it isn't just about housing. It's about transportation to work, education, and employment services. You have to take a more holistic view to have a long-term impact. And Peter has touched families in all those ways."

Makida Abdulahi of Minnesota knows that the impact is real. An immigrant from Ethiopia and the mother to several young children, Abdulahi feared that her American dream would be shattered when the father of her children left, a daughter developed severe asthma requiring frequent hospitalizations, and she lost her job.

Abdulahi turned to IOCP and was moved into a new, stable home, where mold did not make her children sick, and was given GED and career training to work in phlebotomy.

Because of IOCP's desire to protect the anonymity of those it serves, Larson did not meet anyone he helped until several years ago.