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A night up on the rooftop

Homeless teen awareness campaign sends Sunset High School's principal to the roof

In the middle of an unusually dry, cold December, Principal John Huelskamp somehow chose the right night to sleep on the roof of Sunset High School.

Unlike several nights before and after, temperatures remained above freezing the night of Thursday, Dec. 15, and the following Friday morning. The main man at Sunset miraculously endured no rain, snow or frost in his rooftop-mounted tent.

'I've slept better,' he admitted the morning after his odd slumber. 'I'm still upright. My eyes are a little heavier. Aside from that, I'm no worse for wear.'

OK, so what the heck was he doing up there?

Huelskamp was neither locked out of his house nor trying to get a jump on the next day's work at school. His stunt was the result of Sunset students exceeding the principal's goals in raising money, food and donated clothing for the 'Under One Roof' campaign for homeless teens and families in Beaverton.

In a two-week period, students managed to collect $2,200 from a charity concert by the Sunset-student band 'Apollos Unplugged,' collect over 3,511 food items and 1,025 pairs of socks - double the target number - for the campaign. Participating students also adopted 25 homeless students and their families, providing them with clothes, food, hygiene products and gift cards to enhance their holidays.

'I thought I'd raised the bar high enough to where I wouldn't have to go through with this,' Huelskamp said just before his night under the stars. 'But a deal's a deal.'

The 'Under One Roof' theme was meant to illustrate the power of community in helping the less fortunate wanting for adequate food, clothing, shelter and parental support.

'We're all under one roof,' Huelskamp said. 'Some have more than others. I'm just so impressed with (students') willingness to share with those in need.'

Student groups that participated included members of the National Honor Society, Key Club, International Baccalaurate Diploma Program, Link Crew and Leadership.

Tricia Buell, Sunset activities director and physical education teacher, stressed the fundraiser's communal nature.

'Throughout the two weeks, we emphasized our theme, stating that no matter where you live, when you're at Sunset, we are all the same and together, under one roof,' she said.

Buell helped coordinate fundraising efforts with Barnes Elementary School.

'We took 40 underprivileged Barnes Elementary students to Target with 40 'big buddies' from Sunset and gave them $25 gift cards to buy presents for their families for the holidays,' she said.

Once the students made quick work of their principal's goals, Huelskamp started preparing himself for a night well outside his normal comfort zone. He enhanced his rooftop experience with two sleeping bags and an air mattress. A space heater, fueled by a few hundred feet of extension cord snaking through the roof hatch from the school building below, helped keep the encroaching chill at bay.

'Just because you're sleeping on the roof doesn't mean you have to be in complete misery,' he said.

Huelskamp took his position just before 9 p.m. that Thursday. A smattering of Sunset students expressed well wishes to the principal as they wrapped up their evening activities.

'It was all positive,' he said. 'No water balloons, paintballs or anything like that.'

Sleeping intermittently through the chilly but not unbearable night, Huelskamp took time to document his experience with a video recorder so students would have no doubt he held up his end of the deal.

And while he was happy to play the beleaguered fall guy who lost his charity-based wager with his students, the principal emphasized the importance and seriousness of the cause above his high-profile antics.

'For me, it was one night, by choice,' he said. 'For homeless teens in the school district - and there are plenty of students - it's not fun and games. It's not a choice.'


Homeless student numbers are on the rise in Beaverton

Since the beginning of the school year, the Beaverton School District has documented 1,163 homeless students, 306 of those are homeless, unaccompanied youth living without the benefit of a parent or legal guardian. As of Dec. 6, the district had 211 more homeless students from the same date last year, and 110 more homeless, unaccompanied youth attending school, said Lisa Mentesana, Title X social support program specialist for the school district. Here is a breakdown of where these students are primarily residing at night:

• Shelter or transitioning housing, 108 students.

• Doubled-up or sharing housing, 685 students.

• Unsheltered in a car, park, RV, camping or substandard dwellings, 40 students.

• Motel or hotel, 24 students.

• Homeless, unaccompanied youth living without a parent or legal guardian, 306 students.

Of the homeless children and youth served and enrolled in the Beaverton School District, 19 are in preschool, 388 are in elementary, 207 attend middle school and 549 attend high school.