On March 18, 2016, I slept outside to bring attention to the youth homelessness problem in the city of Philadelphia and to raise money for an organization actually making a difference every day. No kid should be worried about where they are going to rest their head on any given night, and it is our responsibility to support those in our community who need it most.
I first learned about the Covenant House from an older chapter brother of mine, Luimbe. My line brother mentioned Lu wanted to talk to me about a philanthropic event – something about sleeping out in the street for a night. I’ll admit that I was skeptical before even giving Lu a call because too often I see folks with good intentions misunderstanding the impact they are actually having (or not having) on a particular cause.
Then I got on the phone with Lu, and he told me about the Covenant House. He talked about how Covenant House is a comprehensive safe place for young people in Philadelphia, whose poverty rate is the highest in the nation among large cities. He talked about how Covenant House wasn’t just a bed and a hot meal – which are two valuable things, no doubt – but a place that offers educational opportunities, job training, and life skills development. I needed to learn more.
After sitting down with the executive staff at the Covenant House, I was sold. I saw the kind of passion that is required for this work. I saw a level of dedication and genuine love for their work and those they serve that cannot be feigned. What struck me more than the passion at Covenant House, though, was the terrifying extent of youth homelessness, particularly in Philadelphia.
Often times, these are kids who you wouldn’t even think were homeless because they don’t fit the homeless stereotype you see on TV nor do they appear as a homeless adult might be expected to. Instead, these are kids who are often still trying to make it to school every day despite having no safe place to stay or bouncing from friends’ couches to park benches. These are not lazy individuals.
These are kids who, despite being put in a profoundly unfair situation and presented with an unimaginable challenge for a young person, have continued to press on and work to overcome. All they need is the opportunity to be great. That’s where the Covenant House and the Sleep Out come in.
We didn’t sleep outside for a night thinking that doing so would solve the problem. We didn’t do it thinking we were experiencing what kids across the city struggle with and face at night. It was only one night; we had bathroom breaks; we had hot chocolate; we had our friends with us – none of these are comparable to the unreal circumstances homeless kids find themselves in.
However, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to educate ourselves and others on the problem. We wanted to use this as an opportunity to raise money so that the Covenant House can continue to serve kids who need help.
The sleep out was in some ways a conflicting experience, though. On one hand, we were in awe of the positivity and perseverance displayed by the residents who generously shared their stories with us. In this way, it was an uplifting feeling, and there was a feeling not unlike a family event. We felt welcomed into their family and their home with open arms.
On the other hand, we found ourselves reminding each other of how horrifying the need for such an event really is. We shouldn’t need a Covenant House or a sleep out or any of this because no kid should be put out on the street. But as long as that need is there, we need to be cognizant of the support we had growing up knowing that every kid deserves that. We can’t take for granted that growing up we had a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, a bathroom to wash in, and the intangible support of a loving family. It was a powerful experience for my friends and me, some of whom were relatively unaware of the scope of this issue and how woefully poor the support is for young people who need it.
All of the services the Covenant House provides are transformative for the young people they take in. We heard the stories of some of the kids in their own words, and what they kept coming back to was the sense of family they found at the Covenant House. Through all they’ve endured and all that still stays with them, they expressed a sense that it was being embraced into the Covenant House family and surrounded by people who wanted them to achieve that made the difference.
We need to do what we can do to keep the family strong. As long as there is an open bed, Covenant House will never turn a kid away. We need to do our part to make sure that doesn’t change. Whether it’s $10 or $100, please consider donating today.