“I woke up this morning a little more tired than usual and with a few extra aches and pains. And this is only after one night, while others experience this for many nights and in far worse conditions... but waking up today with greater appreciation and gratefulness in my heart.” This quote, from Gayle Simpson, was a reflection upon waking up the following morning after participating in a Sleep Out challenge to raise awareness for youth homelessness.
Each year, an estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults experience homelessness. 700,000 of them are unaccompanied minors, meaning they are not part of a family or accompanied by a parent or guardian. Homelessness has always been a crisis for this country and the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust our nation into a severe food crisis. Young people experiencing homelessness suffer the most. Out of the 14 million hungry children currently in the United States, 2.1 million are hidden and marginalized youth experiencing homelessness.
As one of our #HSITAGgivesback events, we organized a #SleepOut Challenge where we gave up our beds for one night and found a safe and legal place to sleep out. The objective of our virtual #SleepOut was to foster connections between HSITAG members, increase awareness for homeless youth, and raise money for the Covenant House International, an international nonprofit that provides housing and supportive services to youth facing homelessness. The #SleepOut goal was to show solidarity and support to the ever-growing population of youth facing homelessness.
The #HSITAGgivesback #SleepOut team started their night with a kickoff call where participants watched several inspiring videos about the mission and how the Covenant House has impacted homeless youth. Some of us shed tears. We also started a conversation about the topic of homelessness, including “What does the word homeless mean to you,” “What do you think of when you think of ‘homeless people,’ or ‘homeless youth,’” and “Who do you think is most responsible for helping youth who become homeless?” The passionate discussion identified some common themes. The challenges the homeless face are broad and complicated. The social safety-net let them down, as well as the other programs should have supported them. And, how does someone who is homeless end up in that situation – what is their story? There was broad consensus that we are all fortunate and blessed to have a roof over our heads, food to eat, and access to affordable healthcare.
Of course, no HSITAG event would be complete without some friendly competition to add some fun to the sleep out. Awards were given for most primitive setting, best pet/sleep partner(s), and biggest sleep out group.
People chose creative locations and configurations to sleep out. Settings included tents in forests, backyards, or living rooms. A couple of participants slept in a car, others under boxes, and many on just a mattress outside. Regardless of where people slept, the action of just taking this step impacted participants in different ways. The following represent some of the feelings many of us experienced during this challenge.
- —“As someone who has received government assistance in my life, it’s important to me that my kids know just how crucial safety nets are (and that using them is nothing to be ashamed of).” – Colleen Luther
- —“Feeling more grateful than usual to have a home to walk into at 5:30 am this morning. Trying my best to really comprehend how overwhelming it must be not to have that.” – Patty Donaldson
Part of the #SleepOut Challenge was to raise money for the Covenant House. We are pleased to report that we exceeded our expanded goal of $3,500 and currently stand at $6,100. Please click here to view a short video on the event.
This #HSITAGgivesback Challenge brought heightened awareness and empathy to the plight of homeless youth. It will be only through awareness and increased funding that this crisis can be addressed. How will you raise awareness? How can we increase funds to address youth homelessness? We encourage you all to stay connected to this issue and work in any way you can to support and advocate for this important cause because no youth should be homeless.