We participate in Sleep Out Saturday to raise awareness about homelessness in DuPage County – and to raise funds to help end it.
As I wrote recently (here and here), SOS is a way to be in solidarity with our homeless population. SOS creates visceral evidence that those who are homeless are included in that web of mutuality that connects us all.
Yet, I want to be sensitive to reasonable critiques of SOS. For instance:
- Shouldn’t we just know that we are connected to all people which includes the homeless?
- Why does it take a big event like SOS to demonstrate mutuality?
- Is this just another form of poverty tourism?
- Are we just using the homeless as a way or an excuse to have a fun event for ourselves?
The best responses I can offer are:
- Yes, we should.
- I don’t know…perhaps it is part of the nature of privileged living in the first world to need to be shaken out of our complacency cocoons?
- I hope not.
- I don’t think so. We’re trying to make it so much more than that.
But I’m probably too close to it to evaluate. I want to know what you think. So I’ll offer pictures, descriptions, and reflections from the evening; you tell me where we seem to be on the continuum:
tourists ————- mutuality
Or maybe that’s not even the best way to express the continuum. You tell me. Please.
The evening begins with a school bus – arranged by and paid for by Bridge Communities – that takes us to the Rally.
The Rally includes dance music, a roll call of the towns represented (there were dozens, from Addison to Woodridge), thanking sponsors, and thanking participants, all MC’d by local news anchor, Stefan Holt.
But the highlight of the Rally (at least for me) is hearing two families helped by Bridge’s transitional housing tell their story.
After the Rally at Bridge Communities headquarters, we returned to WUMC for a simulation game. Each of us received a biography detailing age, sex, family history, employment history, and what led us to become homeless. Several of our adult volunteers role played as persons working for an apartment complex, housing authority, women’s shelter, mission house, and realty. Our job was to find housing for the night.
It was, frankly, frustrating. Jumping through hoops only to be turned down at multiple places. Having a place close before I could turn in paperwork. Running out of options.
A few reflections from our teenagers on the simulation experience:
- “It’s hard to find shelter when you’re homeless.”
- “Homelessness can happen to anyone of any situation.”
- “Some shelters might not let you in. Food is not readily available.”
- “Homeless people live in harsh conditions.”
- “Homeless people come from all different backgrounds and with all different reasons and face different personal challenges.”
Then we prepared shelter for the night out of cardboard boxes.
I never said it was a grim project.
We’re lucky. The church has a great space for our boxes right out in front of the building.
We really did sleep some.
It was cold. But we were sleeping out for a few hours for one night. With a building available for warmth and bathrooms. And a hot breakfast prepared for us. We are aware we’re only simulating a fraction of true homelessness. But that fraction, it’s not nothing. The experience impacted us.
“It is humbling realizing what homeless people have to do every night. It is humiliating thinking this was hard for me but realizing they do this every night.”
“It was humbling thinking about people driving by church, seeing us sleeping in boxes and maybe thinking about me all the stereotypes of homeless people.”
Finally, our teenagers were asked what they would be willing to do without to help homeless people:
- $10 a week
- a meal every week
- let them stay in my house until they get somewhere to stay and a job
- $1 per week
- half of my American Girl dolls
- my iPod
- $10 per week
- $5 per week
- $1 per day
So, what do you think? Tourism, mutuality, or somewhere in between?