I think it’s about 4 am. Someone’s footsteps, crunching through frozen grass, catch my attention. It sounds as though they are standing right over my frost-covered sleeping bag. Until now, only my nose poked out of my sleeping bag so I can breathe the brisk 23 degree air. The rest of me is swathed in winter clothes, mittens, and two sleeping bags, all piled on top of a flattened card board box. I stick my head out to see what the crunching feet want, but their owner has disappeared. Even though I’m sleeping outside with 49 other people, I feel unsettled. All night cars zoom past the grass plot I’m temporarily calling my bed for the night. Pedestrians leaving bars wander past, and I wonder if they see us. I tell myself there’s no reason to feel afraid.
On November 12, Urban Peak Colorado Springs hosted its annual Night Out to End Youth Homelessness, during which community members sleep outside for one night to raise money and awareness for the youth shelter Urban Peak operates year round. The goal of the campaign is to raise $50,000 to provide 1,000 nights of shelter to young people experiencing homelessness.
Sleeping outside for one night does not mean any of us understand what it feels likes to experience homelessness. Surrounded by a group of Urban Peak staff, supporters, volunteers, and community members, I didn’t face the long night alone. I wore my warmest clothes and brought the best sleeping bags I could find. Volunteers watched over the event throughout the night, and in the morning, I got to go home and take a warm shower. Despite the somewhat controlled experience, I cannot imagine another night out. The lack of safety, sleep, and shelter would challenge anyone, but it is most devastating to those who wake up with the prospect of having to repeat the same feat when the sun sets again. This thought sticks with me, and is perhaps the most haunting part of spending one night out.
I understand my one night out is far less of a struggle compared to the young people in our community who do it every night. At the end of the day, I get to go home. Too many people in our community do not experience this luxury.
Ultimately, I felt so inspired by the almost 50 people who chose to spend the night outside in solidarity with youth experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs. I also felt humbled in the presence of Urban Peak staff members, who work every day to achieve the organization’s mission of “helping youth experiencing homelessness and youth at risk of becoming homeless overcome real life challenges by providing essential services and a supportive community, empowering them to become self-sufficient adults.” The $50,000 raised in the Night Out to End Homelessness campaign will provide essential, life-changing support for youth experiencing homelessness.
I wish the prospect of any person spending a night outside – not just those of us with the privilege to choose to do so – could galvanize enough support to end homelessness in our community. I am hopeful, and I sincerely appreciate the efforts of Urban Peak to ensure fewer young people wonder where they can find a safe, warm place for the night.