Fog and cold settled across Heath Lawn on Nov. 9-10 as Vanguard University students attempted to sleep during the Solidarity Sleep Out. The goal of the sleep out is to bring awareness to the issue of youth homelessness.
The evening began in Needham Chapel with a time of worship and a message about youth homelessness. Tanya Riches, a former Hillsong Band member, led worship and Sandie Morgan, the Global Center for Women and Justice director and a professor at Vanguard University, shared a message and spent the night as well.
“She helped us see different sides of homelessness,” Live2Free President Barbara Isaac said about Morgan’s message. People often picture older, scruffy, dirty individuals as homeless, but do not take into consideration the many young people who do not have homes and are still going to school, Isaac said. She described an example Morgan gave of a young person sitting outside at night under a streetlight to finish homework so the other individuals living in his or her rented room could sleep.
After the chapel, students participating in the Sleep Out went to Scott Courtyard to get some snacks and gather for a bit before setting up camp on Heath Lawn. All snacks were donated to Morgan’s family and violence class from businesses in the area. Her students were required to ask for donations in order to experience another aspect of being homeless.
Once students finished snacking, they began to spread out across the lawn to find where they would make their bed for the night. Some students had tents, some used sleeping bags and some had nothing. Most gathered in small groups to chat and pass the time in the cold and eventually ended up as clumps snuggled together as they tried to sleep.
Describing the physical experience of her night, Isaac said: “It was really cold and uncomfortable. My back hurt in the morning.” As a sophomore, this was Isaac’s second solidarity sleep out. The experience allowed her and the other students to place themselves in the shoes of homeless youth, she said. “I just can’t imagine not being able to come home to a bed, pillow, blanket, hot water,” she added.
The next morning, students woke up with the sun, packed up their belongings, ate leftover coffee and bread and headed to their homes. Many climbed right into their beds to sleep, Isaac said, adding that she did the same her first year. Looking to the future, Isaac said she would like to see students wake up in the morning after the sleep out and stay awake the whole next day in order to really solidify the statement they made by sleeping out. Helping out at a soup kitchen the next morning might be a good addition to the sleep out, she said. If students stay awake the next day, they really “experience the fatigue and exhaustion like a homeless person,” she said.
Overall, Isaac said the Solidarity Sleep Out had a good turnout, helped students understand some of the struggles that homeless youth experience and, at least in her case, inspired a desire to act.