Housing Forward Executive Director Lynda Schueler | Todd A. Bannor

The temperature was forecast to hit a low of 19 degrees on Feb. 17 in Forest Park, but Housing Forward board member Erich Krumrei was enthusiastic about sleeping outside in a cardboard box to raise money and awareness of homelessness issues.

The Iraqi war veteran noted before the event, “I’ve been watching the weather very closely. The colder the better. The idea is to get out there in the elements and suffer a little so you have a bit of an idea of what people go through when they don’t have a home.”

Krumrei, who lives in Oak Park and owns Play it Again Sports in Forest Park, notes  he was inspired by Gimme Shelter, an event hosted by Peoria-based Phoenix Development Services to raise awareness of the challenges faced by community members without homes.  Participants pay for the privilege of spending the night in a cardboard box in order to raise funds to help combat homelessness.

As a board member with Housing Forward, the Maywood-based non-profit, Krumrei decided to bring a similar event to the near-west suburbs and says the event is a way to support his passion for ending homelessness, especially veteran homelessness.

Branding his inaugural effort Sleep Out 4 Change, Krumrei challenged others to join him in sleeping outside to raise awareness about homelessness, and also launched a fundraiser at: Sleep Out 4 Change (clickandpledge.com)

The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimated in 2020 that over 37,000 veterans were homeless in the United States. That number hits close to home for Krumrei.

Todd A. Bannor

As a third-generation veteran — his grandfather served in World War II, his father in Vietnam, and Krumrei in Iraq — he is particularly in tune with the needs of veterans. He says, “There’s a whole lot of issues that effect veterans when they come back from overseas. Housing shouldn’t be one of them.”

On Feb. 17, Krumrei was joined by a few others willing to brave the elements, including Maria Maxham. Maxham is a volunteer for Housing Forward, and through her work as a village commissioner in Forest Park she is currently engaging with the mayor’s office and the Community Center to add a focus on mental health and social services to the department’s work.

She says, “When Erich told me about the Sleep Out 4 Change initiative, I was immediately interested because I love the work Housing Forward is doing. It’s a project that will raise money for and awareness of a very important issue.”

Krumrei hopes to expand this effort into an annual event with multiple people sleeping outside for pledges, with corporate sponsors. This year, the village of Forest Park and Mayor Rory Hoskins offered support, and Grand Appliance on Madison Street in Forest Park donated refrigerator boxes to the effort.

Housing Forward Executive Director Lynda Schueler | Todd A. Bannor

Housing Forward Executive Director Lynda Schueler kicked off the evening with a brief speech, acknowledging Krumrei’s efforts that help shine the spotlight on homeless veterans. His efforts dovetail with Housing Forward’s Victory’s Path program, which provides support to veterans, helping them obtain housing as they work towards paying for their own housing as an independent community member.

Erik Johnson, development chief at Housing Forward, praised Krumrei’s efforts. “He is a new board member for Housing Forward and just really wanted to roll up his sleeves and do something that crossed ground with his personal experience and his board experience.”

As of Monday, Feb. 20, Sleep Out 4 Change has raised over $7,700 and Housing Forward continues to accept donations.