I rode into the city on Thursday with team members and Sleepout veterans Richard Seidler and Dion Morreale. We arrived at Covenant House (CH) around 4:30 PM, checked our bags, and got ready for the long night.
First up was a walk to Times Square for the vigil event highlighting the issue of teen homelessness. Lynn was in the city that day and met me there. After grabbing some pizza and great conversation with the new Goodwill Rescue Mission director, Dave Jones, we headed back to CH for their main presentation. Stirring video testimonies, great stories, and a lot of positive energy really helped me capture what CH was all about.
But the best part was when they separated us into small groups to spend time with CH kids and staff workers where we heard their stories and asked questions. This was the real deal - first hand accounts of kids who were living on the street, but now have hope, goals, and are moving forward with their lives.
I was most impressed with the amazing dedication of the outreach workers in NJ. They literally search the highways and byways (and under bridges and boardwalks) looking for homeless youth, building up trust with them, and introducing them to a host of supportive services (not just shelter).
Each kid has a different story. They are people first, and each has unique dreams and goals just like the rest of us. But they lost their housing along the way and went into survival mode. I was surprised at how many of them were simply victims of tough situations. Examples:
- Both parents died so she was out on her own
- Parents had too many mouths to feed so she had to make it on her own.
- Foster care situation was unbearable
- Both parents were drug addicts
All in all, it was probably the most impactful part of the evening. But then is was time to gear up and change into warmer clothing. The 251 other business execs and I claimed our patches in the small CH parking lot on the corner of 41st and 10th for the sleepout.
CH gives you a sleeping bag and flat cardboard box as a barrier to the pavement. Even though it was 28 degrees out, I kept relatively warm, but then the freezing wind would gust into my sleeping bag opening and wake me up. Over and over and over and over and over... until I figured out (4 hours later) to flip the direction of my sleeping bag so the wind was at my feet
It was also very loud - New York truly is a city that doesn't sleep, and it doesn't halt construction projects happening right across the street either. Fortunately I brought earplugs.
You could go into the CH building if you got too cold, needed the restroom, or wanted a snack. I took advantage of that twice. And the space where we slept had barriers and security guards, so we felt safe. We learned that's one aspect of teen homelessness that never quits - they are often taken advantage of and can never just relax or let their guard down. One girl told us how her "home" for a number of months was sleeping on subway trains. She did this for months while attending high school and still managed to graduate. Amazing.
Rich woke us up to rise and shine at 5:45. In all, I figured I got about 3 1/2 hours of sleep. We packed up, grabbed a bit to eat, listened to personal reflections by the other volunteers, then headed back to Newark.
Some random observations:
- There were A LOT of participants from NJ. I'd guess we were in the majority. Jersey!!
- Brian Cashman (NY Yankees GM) was sleeping out with us. He's been a long time covenant house supporter, and just a regular guy - no celebrity aura there.
- Yes, you can hear the Lincoln Tunnel traffic (quite well) while trying to sleep there
- Yes, you can also hear the Port Authority buses (also, quite well) while trying to sleep
- CH really stands out as a top-notch shelter program. And it boils down to the love of God working through people dedicated to serve.
Again, many thanks to all who supported me on this event. It really changed my perspective, and I'm glad I was able to introduce many of you to the CH mission. Overall, the group of 252 volunteers raised over $1.6 Million dollars to help homeless kids. That's great!
Lynn and I at the Times Square vigil. Note the nifty Covenant House souvenir hat!