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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Some Fort Worth middle school students are spending Thursday night in the great outdoors, but this is no camping trip.

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According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are nearly 20,000 homeless people in Texas.

To put that in perspective, that’s enough to fill every seat in the American Airlines Center.

To gain a better understanding of the problem of homelessness, middle school students at the All Saints Episcopal School are spending the night outdoors as if they were homeless.

No tents, no sleeping bags — just the clothes on their back, some blankets and cardboard boxes.

Eighth-grader Nicholas Moore participated last year and is doing so again.

“It really changed my perspective on how much is really not there and how much we have that some people don’t get,” says Moore.

Another eighth-grader, Bryce Earley, says the Project Empathy exercise gives her a much greater appreciation of the things she has.

“We never really know how much we have until it’s gone,” Earley says, “and when it is gone, it’s so much different to see these people live like this every day.”

The project, which is now in its eighth year, is coordinated by Spanish teacher Kelsey De La Torre, who says the project has a tremendous amount of support.

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“Most of the feedback that we receive from both parents and students is just gratitude for letting their student have this experience,” says Mrs. De La Torre. “And it’s become something at All Saints that students look forward to experiencing once they get into the middle school.”

Middle school principal Mike Gonzalez says the program has had a tremendous impact on students, many of whom return following graduation to participate in the exercise.

Gonzalez says the program has had a tremendous impact on students, recalling what one student told him after spending a night homeless under the exercise a few years ago.

“He says, “Gonzo, all night long I couldn’t sleep. But I kept on thinking about my bed and my warm house. And to be honest with you, I felt guilty because I knew I was going to be in there in 24 hours, I’ll be sleeping in my bed in my warm house. But there’s other kids that don’t do that and won’t have that opportunity.’”

The exercise has also had a profound impact on Earley and Moore.

“It made me think when I see someone on the side of the street how they’re actually feeling rather than passing them by,” Earley says.

“It did change how I want to help them,” Moore says, “to more acknowledge and let them know that there is help.”

Earley, Moore and nearly all of their middle school classmates are fasting for 24 hours as part of the exercise.

They will not get any break from their studies.  They’ll need to do their homework and study for a test that’s coming Friday.

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