Video and pics from the Sleepout

Video coverage   

Photos - no pics of my team, but you can get a sense of the event and the companies that were represented.

And, because so many of you asked where I actually slept, check out the following (that's 10th Ave. right above us, and 41st Street to the right).  

This is a little more than half the group.

If it seems surreal, that's because it was.

Homeless business leaders

Homeless business leaders

Sleepout Night 2014

Settling in for the night

Settling in for the night

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. 

Business execs sleeping out in a NYC Parking lot - surreal!

Business execs sleeping out in a NYC Parking lot - surreal!

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!

My sleepout for the homeless


So tonight I'm going to be sleeping on the street in NYC as part of an teen homelessness awareness event for Covenant House.

Here are some pre-event observations. 

1) Some of you know that I was a professional fundraiser for seven years at Paxton Ministries. It's interesting to be on this side of the fundraising process.  I used to tell my volunteers that the main reason people give time or money is because they are asked.  My involvement with the sleepout is bearing that out. 

The trigger for me to sign up was simply that my friend and mentor, Rich Seidler, invited me to be part of his team.

I was a little reluctant (rain, freezing, physical safety concerns), but since moving to New Jersey in 2008 my giving portfolio hasn't included enough focus on poverty issues. So I saw this as a chance to get off my butt, face the unknown, and finally do something about it.  

2) I have been BLOWN AWAY by the generosity of my friends, coworkers, and family in supporting this effort. Both in the size of the gifts and the number of people contributing.  It's very encouraging. 

3) Fundraising has come a long way since I was involved (pre-internet).  Covenant House has a nice website that makes it easy for volunteers to promote the event, send emails, collect and process donations, track progress and thank people.  My daughter had a similar experience when she set up a personal campaign for Charity: Water.  

4) I'm a little anxious (OK, more than a little) because the temperature is predicted to go down to 28 degrees tonight. So I'm obsessing over clothing layers, and what creature comforts to bring or leave home.  Then it hit me - these homeless kids have to face this every night!  Whoa, I feel like a whining baby.  So I'm even more eager to meet some of these kids tonight to hear their stories.

I already started to notice homeless people more when I was in Penn Station on Tuesday. Instead of ignoring them (for anyone about to get judgy on me, it's part of living in a major metro area - it happens - you get desensitized) I started reminding myself that each one is a real person with a back story.  I'm looking forward to a deeper dive tonight.  I need to be re-sensitized. 

5) Covenant House says the event is completely full and they have a waiting list.  Rich tells me that's a first!

Have you ever done anything like this?
Have you had an experience that sensitized you to poverty and gave you a new perspective?

OK, enough for now.   My next post will be post-event.