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Why We Sleep Out: Reggie’s Story

For nearly two decades, Reggie’s Sleepout has raised awareness and funds for homeless youth services in central Iowa. The event is named in honor of Reggie Kelsey, a young man whose tragic death sparked a movement.

In October 2000, Reggie was kicked out of his foster care placement. Only 17 years old, he moved from a group home to his own apartment. An investigative report by the state later found that information available at the time “clearly indicates Reggie was not ready for independent living.”

With multiple mental health diagnosis, Reggie’s anxieties and behaviors worsened as he found himself with more free time and less supervision. He was caught stealing, breaking curfew, missing school, and burning things in his apartment.

In early February 2001, Reggie informed the independent living program staff he longer felt safe in the apartment, and he was discharged. Around the same time, he was expelled from school and never returned.

By the time he turned 18, Reggie had nowhere to go. He bounced from one shelter to another, occasionally sleeping on the streets. He suffered from depression and hallucinations.

On May 28, 2001, Reggie’s body was found in the Des Moines River. According to the investigation, “the Deputy State Medical Examiner concluded Reggie died by drowning and reported the manner of death as suicide.”

The tragedy drew widespread attention to failures in the system. As a result, YSS led the effort to develop the Iowa Aftercare Services Network (IASN) in 2002 to provide services to those aging out of foster care. YSS continues to lead the program today, supporting foster care alumni with stipends, resources, technology, and more.

In 2005, Iowa Homeless Youth Centers (IHYC), a YSS organization, started Reggie’s Sleepout and invited hundreds of participants camp out to support the cause. This year’s event on Oct. 29 will be in-person at Drake Stadium for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Reggie’s Sleepout reinforces our commitment to help youth like Reggie—and end homelessness for good. If you want to support the event, make a donation.

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