Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who supported the Covenant House Young Professional Sleep Out event this year! This came in the form of donations, volunteers, and thoughtful offers to deliver hot drinks throughout the night. The event raised $53,187, all of which will go to support Alaska’s homeless youth. Great job donating, everyone!
My education started a couple weeks before the event, when participants were invited to go on an outreach tour. Covenant House staff drove us around Anchorage, pointing out places they often go to talk to youth to let them know about Covey as a resource and share some brown bag lunches. Some of these were places I expected, but many more caught me by surprise. Also shocking were the stories of human trafficking and prostitution they told us. I suppose I’ve been very sheltered and naïve in my view of what commonly goes on, here and in every other city where I’ve lived. Eye-opening, for sure.
The night of the sleep out we arrived just before 7pm with our puffy coats and sleeping bags. There were 23 of us “sleepers,” as well as Covey staff and volunteers. We were split into four groups to do a tour of the facility, a walking outreach tour, a string exercise demonstrating how easy it is for a youth to lose connection with every support system they may have, and a small group session where three courageous youth involved in Covenant House’s Rights of Passage* shared their stories with us. The new facility is beautiful (and always accepting donations of clothing, toiletries, backpacks, headphones, and volunteers!), the string exercise was so helpful to understand Covey’s process of connecting with kids, and hearing the stories from the youth blew me away. Courage, perseverance, strength, hope – they are inspirational from my view, and yet for them it is simply necessary for survival.
*Rights of Passage is a transitional living program for youth 18-21 that promotes self-reliance and offers services to help them successfully work toward an independent lifestyle through gainful employment
Afterwards the full group came together again for a snack of chili and cornbread (thank you Beans Café!), and we heard from a young woman about her experiences with the foster care system. Her story involved a few stays at Covenant House (in fact, at any given time, 60% of the kids at Covey are in foster care. Whoa!). She is now quite a success, working for the state to improve Alaska’s foster care system and part of a national advocacy group that flies her across the country to speak in support of a better system throughout the United States. She also led a garbage bag activity, which had us sleepers write down our top five most important things in life and slowly have to throw them all away. It was so impactful, and made me want to hug every child who’s ever been a ward of the state and tell them how much I love them. And still, what difference would that make?? Despite being National Happiness Day, we were all feeling quite heavy. Time to go outside.
We had a discussion around the fire in the courtyard lead by a former Covey resident turned employee; gratitude, privilege, a desire to do more to help, humility, and ignorance were all themes shared by many. How little we know about things happening all around us; how little we see when we do not make an effort to look.
Sometime after 1am I turned in for the night. We had relatively cushy sleeping arrangements: we were outside on the lawn in Covenant House’s fenced-in courtyard, so safety wasn’t something we needed to even consider, and no one ever came and told us we needed to move on; the staff had spread tarps on the ground, and made little cardboard box shelters for each of us; volunteers walked around during the night to make sure we weren’t too cold; we all had sleeping bags. I slept in all my clothes and wrapped a tarp over me inside my cardboard home and used a water bottle as a pillow. I woke often, mostly due to being in cramped quarters. I was so thankful to be 33, as I have to imagine the cold hard ground just gets colder and harder with age, and I thought often about all our community’s homeless who were outside that night throughout town, potentially alone, with no thoughts of a warm bed waiting at home to bring them any comfort. Heart breaking.
We packed up our stuff around 7am and went inside for a hot breakfast (thanks volunteers!). We stretched our stiff muscles, we smiled and hugged and patted ourselves on the back for doing for 5 hours what so many people have to do all night, every night. We made mental commitments to try to do more to raise awareness and to donate to Covenant House, and then we walked to our cars and drove to our homes where many of us probably took hot showers and naps. I am grateful to have participated, and even more thankful that Covenant House exists and is so good at what it does. I am not under the impression that I now know what it’s like to be homeless, but I did have my eyes opened a bit, and I hope to start seeing more of the hidden population all around me. I will continue to support Covenant House, the Brother Francis Shelter, Clare House, Bean’s Café, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, and other organizations in town doing the incredibly important work of serving the most vulnerable among us. Thank you again for your support, I am so blessed.