Hartland 'Sleepout for Veterans' raises money, attention

On a below-freezing night in southeastern Wisconsin, an outside event in Hartland moved forward Saturday. The cold is part of the point.

For two straight nights, outside was home for members of American Legion Post 294 – their cardboard shelters drawing attention to an often overlooked issue.

Standing in the cold is becoming a tradition for post members. Each February, they spend a weekend around a bonfire to get a small feel for what it is like to be a homeless veteran.

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Vietnam War Veteran James Olson learned about the hardships from a direct source.

"My wife and I took a homeless veteran in maybe three years ago," Olson, commander of the Hartland American Legion, said. "He was so grateful for everything. He had a lot of pride. He enlightened me and my wife that there were thousands more like him out there in our country that needed help."

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"Sleepout for Veterans" in Hartland

It is part of the reason Olson keeps coming back. 2022 marks the third year of the "Sleepout for Veterans." Last year, it raised almost $40,000 for its goal to help as many veterans as possible.

"Could you imagine being out on the street in weather like this?" Mark Pap, commander of sons of the American Legion squadron. "It gives me a self-awareness of what these guys go through and these women. It’s unbelievable what they have to endure."

The group will be collecting food and donations through noon Sunday, Feb. 13. The money raise goes to the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative and Wisconsin Veterans Outreach.

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