The Washington Post

Covenant House offers volunteers a first-hand glimpse into homelessness with 2nd Annual Sleep Out

All articles are written by YJDP Student Correspondents and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

Rain or shine, young professionals prepared to sleep on the streets of D.C. to experience the homelessness many youth in the city face daily.

The Covenant House’s second annual Sleep Out: Young Professional Edition, which took place March 21 on the streets and sidewalks surrounding the facility’s building on Mississippi Ave., commenced at 7 pm with Happy Hour. The Sleep Out attracted nearly 100 young professionals with ages ranging from 20-50 years old, all to raise awareness for homeless and disconnected youth.

The Covenant House is a non-profit organization that aims to help homeless youth escape the streets. Last year alone they worked to improve the lives of 50,000 disconnected youth in 21 different cities.

sleeper Nia Benjamin, the night was a good opportunity to interact with Covenant House youth, but also offered a reality check for what homelessness is really like.

“At first I thought sleeping out sounded crazy, especially with the snow this winter, but then I snapped out of it. It’s a real eye-opener,” Benjamin said.

Following Happy Hour, Covenant House led a presentation on homelessness and disconnected youth.

“It is important to see all sides of homelessness. Many children, whatever the circumstances, although they may live in Covenant House, still don’t have a home. They can’t go to their room, shut the door and have a tantrum,” Benjamin said.

Having camped before, sleeper D’Angela Moore was not concerned with the discomfort of sleeping on the streets. Raising awareness for homeless youth is important for her, she said, and sleeping out gave her that opportunity.

“There are a lot of homeless youth that are homeless not because they choose to be. It is important for people to understand what homelessness really is and that it really is a problem today,” Moore said.

While sleeping outside with a sleeping bag is certainly different from sleeping in the comfort of your home, the Sleep Out was only a snapshot of what homeless youth must cope with, Cell Bernardino, chair of Covenant House Washington’s board of directors, noted.

“It does give you a sense of the experience, but it is still nowhere near the hardship that homeless youth face,” Bernardino said.

District of Columbia Interagency Council on Homelessness surveyed that more than 2,000 homeless youth reside in the capital, based on their statistics released for 2013.

Dr. Madye G. Henson, Covenant House’s executive director, believes that the Sleep Out, with nearly 100 sleepers, can make a real difference for Covenant House’s homeless and disconnected youth.

“We have the ability to transition a youth’s life so that they can be stable, solid, contributing citizens,” Henson said. “That’s powerful.”

The event raised over $360,000 for the Covenant House, which provided over 52,000 meals for young people last year. They also supported more than 400 homeless and disconnected youth with education and housing.

Homelessness is both a national and regional issue, Henson added.

“The D.C. area has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country. Yet, this is also one of the most affluent cities in the world,” she said. “We have the ability to make a difference. That’s where the Covenant House comes in, to bring those resources together.”


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