Sleep Out Gives Students Perspective on Homelessness
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 02:10
In order to raise awareness and fundraise for Covenant House, Hoya Outreach Programs and Education will hold its second annual Solidarity Sleep Out Nov. 16 on the Leavey Esplanade.
The sleep out, co-coordinated by Gianna Maita (COL ’15) and Daniel Ryan (COL ’13), will run from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next morning. Students will sleep on the ground on the esplanade to get a feel for the experience of living on the streets.
“We want to make homelessness a real idea instead of an abstract concept like, ‘I know there are homeless people out there, and I know some of them are youth and teenagers,’” Ryan said. “You spend a couple hours outside on a cold November night, and it becomes a lot more real.”
The event will also include a cappella performances, a showing of the documentary “Streetwise” and speakers from Covenant House, a nonprofit organization that provides food, shelter, clothes, transitional housing, job skills training and GED classes to homeless and runaway youth.
“Basically, [Covenant House] gives them the tools they need to get back on their feet,” Maita said. “These kids are so hard working, but it’s their horrible social or family situations that prevent them from changing their lives.”
Ryan, whose father is the chief executive officer of Covenant House, cited his own experiences with the organization as his reason for getting involved with the sleep out.
“Covenant House reminds me that there are people out there who have it a lot worse than I ever could or ever have, and the way they can wake up every day and go out there and fight for a normal life, get a job, go to school and feel the love that Covenant House gives them, as opposed to a traditional family — it’s just very inspirational.”
He added that the sleep out aims to give students a sense of what it feels like to live in these circumstances.
“It’s supposed to make people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “We want to give ourselves a perspective we don’t have to deal with on a usual basis.”
Maita added that during last year’s sleep out, the group moved inside after 2 a.m. due to extreme cold.
“Even by the time we were watching the movie, it was so cold that my CD player slot in my laptop wouldn’t open,” Maita said. “We had to pry it open.”
Although moving inside made the experience less authentic, Fiona Meagher (COL ’15), a participant in last year’s event, pointed out that homeless youth do not have the option to escape the weather, which emphasized Georgetown students’ privilege.
“It was crazy to think that some people don’t have the option to just go inside and use a warm bathroom or warm up,” she said.
Meagher added that the event was a powerful learning experience.
“I definitely don’t think I know exactly what a homeless person feels, but I think that I have more empathy,” she said. “I’ve experienced — to some degree — a taste of what they go through every night, and knowing that makes this problem impossible to ignore. It makes you know that it’s not an experience that any person should have to go through, yet they do, so something must be done about this.”
Ryan added that he hoped that people come away from the experience with a renewed sense of dedication to the problem of youth homelessness in D.C.
“Sleeping outside in cold conditions, just trying to do that for one night and then trying to imagine what that’s like on a daily basis is difficult. It’s an amazing opportunity to imagine, to put ourselves in the shoes of homeless kids,” Ryan said.
“I hope people will come away with a sense of urgency [and] feel the need to visit a Covenant House shelter, donate their time or money or spread the word about homelessness among youth,” he added. “I want this night to leave a lasting impression.”