They say you can never truly understand another person until you walk a mile in their shoes.
That became a reality for me after participating in my first SleepOut with Covenant House.
I imagine that Covenant House of New Jersey’s Executive Director, Jim White, who created the first SleepOut experience over a decade ago, had this in mind.
How best to have people understand what young people experiencing homelessness than to spend a night sleeping on the street themselves?
Beyond raising money and awareness (whose importance should not be overlooked), this shows the young people that they are not alone. In the years that have followed, Covenant House has raised millions of dollars from SleepOuts and has provided over 720,000 nights of shelter to young people facing homelessness and human trafficking. These funds go directly to the young people who receive Covenant House’s wraparound services like housing, mental health services, and employment opportunities.
I did not grow up with a lot of money, but I also never had to wonder whether I would have a bed to sleep in that night or where my next meal would come from. It was not until my own SleepOut that I realized how much of a privilege and luxury this was. My mom was a social worker and has worked with Covenant House and organizations like it for the better part of her life, which led me to mistakenly believe that I was mentally prepared for this. I spent my life knowing so many of the reasons people experience homelessness and the harsh conditions they face so I assumed this would be physically difficult, but that I did not have much to learn.
Well, I was wrong.
Our SleepOut took place on a cold and rainy New Jersey night. The rain started before we went outside and continued until the next morning, when the rain turned to snow. We were asked to bring our own sleeping bags and were provided a large cardboard box. When given the option between sleeping on the floor of the cold (but dry) Covenant House gym or sleeping in the parking lot, I chose the parking lot – I wanted to experience as much as possible.
After only two hours outside, I started to question that decision.
My sleeping bag was soaked. I was soaked. I was cold. But, it was only 12:30 AM and I had at least five more hours to go…
I decided to move inside to the gym floor. By the next morning, all but two of the twenty-eight participants had made their way inside. Now you might be wondering, how much can you actually “sleep” under these conditions.
On the high-end some of us had about three hours of sleep, none of which were consecutive.
This stuck with me.
We were privileged people who had sleeping bags and knew it was going to rain. We brought umbrellas and plastic bags to protect us, yet we still were not prepared. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for anyone experiencing homelessness.
I knew I’d get to go home, take a hot shower, and nap in my warm bed while people sleeping outside were getting ready to go to work or face another wet day on the street. Even with time and resources to prepare, we were utterly unprepared.
More than sleeping bags or umbrellas, the thing that made my experience truly unique from so many of the young people facing homelessness is that I slept out with six of my 1Huddle teammates. We decided to tackle this together. We felt safer. We encouraged each other throughout the night as it got harder and harder.
We all came into it with different reasons for participating and left transformed. After the SleepOut, we all shared our biggest takeaways. Here are the biggest takeaways were from the team’s first-ever SleepOut.
“Rough would be an understatement. But, it allowed me to witness the harsh reality many have to succumb to daily. It was a very humbling and eye-opening experience. The conditions were harsh on that night, but they were real life to many. It lingers with me, as it should.” –Vanessa, Coaching & Development
When you wake up soaked, barely having slept, and demoralized, it seems impossible to go to work performing your best.” –Justin, Business Development Rep
“It really hit me how vulnerable young people experiencing homelessness are. Sleeping outside for one night made me feel emotional, knowing there are so many young people that are homeless and have to live this life every day is terrifying. I would encourage anyone to take part in a SleepOut event.” –Rose, Coaching & Development
“This sleepout made me think about how the government isn’t doing much to help the homeless situation, but rather make matters worse with the increased cost to survive in this country. This was an experience that struck me on a different level, and I think everyone should participate in a sleepout to possibly shed a different perspective on homelessness.” –Abigail, Associate
“People are much more than their living situation. Anyone can end up without a home either by the choices made OR circumstances out of their control. Be grateful and do not make assumptions or stereotype people who are experiencing homelessness.” –Michelle, Coaching & Development
“It’s important to cherish the warmth you’re in at the moment and the people who make you feel warm, especially when it’s cold around you, appreciation to my friends at 1Huddle and Covenant House.” –Jhonny, Associate
Me and 1Huddle are thankful to partner with an organization like Covenant House for 4+ years. Want to learn more about the Covenant House or join an upcoming SleepOut near you? Visit https://www.covenanthouse.org/.
1Huddle is a coaching and development platform that uses quick-burst mobile games to more quickly and effectively educate, elevate, and energize your workforce — from frontline to full-time.
With a mobile-first approach to preparing the modern worker, a mobile library of 3,000+ quick-burst employee skill games, an on-demand game marketplace that covers 16 unique workforce skill areas, and the option for personalized content, 1Huddle is changing the way organizations think about their training – from a one-time boring onboarding experience to a continuous motivational tool.
Key clients include Loews Hotels, Novartis, Madison Square Garden, PIMCO, TAO Group, and the United States Air Force. To learn more about 1Huddle and its platform, please visit 1huddle.co.
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