On April 21st, my daughter, her two friends and I participated in Sleep Out! 2023 where we slept under a canopy outside of COSI all night in solidarity with central Ohio youth who experience homelessness on a daily basis and in support of the Huckleberry House. I heard an announcement on the radio about the event and thought that this was something that I wanted to do. And I wanted to do it with my daughter who will be turning 13 this year. I thought it would be an impactful, eye-opening experience for us both and something she would like to do for kids her own age.
I was wrong. She did not want to do this. While she supported the cause, she was very scared to sleep out, downtown in a strange place with people she did not know, and outside. She was adamant – she did not want to do it. We talked about it a lot. We read about the great work done at the Huckleberry House. We read all the shocking statistics. We had no idea of the number of teenagers and young adults who were homeless and of the reasons why. She really wanted to help but was still so scared to sleep out.
Then she decided she could do it if she surrounded herself with some people she knew, so she started asking her friends. She invited 5 friends to participate with us but only 2 of them could or would do it. They are 12 years old and sleeping out in the elements with strangers in a strange dark place is intimidating, very scary, and a valid fear. Nobody should have to do this. But they had each other, they had warm clothing and sleeping bags and pillows and a warm home to go back to in the morning and the knowledge that they were doing this for only one night.
We arrived early to set up our sleeping bags and to let the girls settle in and get adjusted to what they were going to do. The darkness soon came and the rain. It was a cold and rainy night – even more impactful to everyone there. We listened to the stories and the information presented at the round table discussion and by the staff of the Huckleberry House, and even by one person who experienced homelessness as a young person herself. We heard all the good that is happening and all that still needs to be done. We heard numbers – 3,000: over 3,000 young people (aged 12 to 24) will experience homelessness this year in central Ohio alone; 179: young people have to wait 179 days for housing, and this is a huge improvement; 18: so many young people dread their 18th birthday when they will be on their own and in competition for housing; and so many others.
We settled in for a long night sleeping outside, staring at the downtown buildings all lit up and warm inside, thinking about the young people suffering all alone that night, hungry wet and tired, and startling awake with every noise we heard. We slept out in solidarity with those youth and we definitely experienced the uncomfortableness of sleeping on the ground and out in the rain and in the cold. But we KNOW this did not compare to the feelings experienced by the young people who have had to leave because of unsafe environments or who have been kicked out by their families without warm clothing, money or food and have had to survive all on their own.
It was really hard the next day to go home and do all the things that I normally do on a Saturday. I was a little sore in places and so very tired and constantly thinking about the upcoming night where many would have to do it all again. By the end of the day I couldn’t think straight, I was so tired, and I just remember thinking how can these young people do this day in and day out. We all agreed that this experience meant a lot to us, that we learned so much, and that we would share all that we learned with the people we know to spread awareness and hopefully support for the Huckleberry House. It was a reminder of all the blessings we have in our lives and the need to share them with others. The girls felt the best part of the whole experience was getting to help others and the worst was just having to hear about the struggles and pain that people their own age go through.
Sleep Out for us was everything it was intended to be – a powerful, eye-opening reminder of the reality experienced by so many young people around us and the need to support the people and the programs trying to keep them safe and well – and we fully intend on participating again next year.
You can support this work by making a one-time or recurring gift of any amount to Huckleberry House.