The 19th-century English poet John Keats is credited with observing: "Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced." That sentiment is at the heart of an annual sleep-out organized by the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit committed to ending homelessness.

To raise awareness of youth homelessness, close to 400 teenagers planned to sleep outside Friday night in cardboard boxes in the parking lot of Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis as part of "A Night on the Street," a fundraising event organized by the foundation.

"It's one thing to understand the issue of homelessness in your head, and a whole other thing to feel it in the numbness of your toes," said Jenny Mason, who works at the foundation and organized the sleep-out. "They're understanding this at a visceral level."

During the event, which was to end at 8 a.m. Saturday, the teens -- representing 35 youth groups from Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations in the Twin Cities and three school groups -- were to listen to speakers from service and advocacy groups serving homeless youth.

"This year the focus is on how they can carry this back to the place they're coming from," Mason said. "Are they going to try to create a collection drive? Are they going to do an awareness week or month? So it's not just this night, and that's it until next year."

The foundation has been holding the event for seven years -- last year raising close to $40,000 for youth housing the foundation owns and operates in the Twin Cities. There are an estimated 13,000 homeless people in Minnesota -- about 2,500 of those youths, Mason notes.

"We intentionally work so that it's interfaith because it is a broader issue," Mason said. "We want to be about ending homelessness. It's really a problem of our time, the last 30 years. We believe a collective effort can ... solve this problem and the faith community can play a strong part in that."

Rose French • 612-673-4352