On a cold night in November, about 28 Central Floridians traded their homes and comfy beds for cardboard boxes and sleeping bags. Their aim was to sleep outside for one night on the basketball court of Covenant House Florida and, maybe, feel a little bit of what it’s like for so many homeless youth.
Covenant House’s Sleep Out: Executive Edition is an annual event that happens nationwide at 16 Covenant House shelters. People create teams and raise money for the organization before the event and then spend the night roughing it in an effort to really put themselves in the shoes of many homeless young adults.
The night of this year’s sleep out was unusually cold compared to the week before. Temperatures dipped down to 56 degrees in the early morning hours.
At a candlelight vigil held before the sleep out, James M. Gress told the crowd that he thought the cold temperatures were providential as to give the sleepers a taste of what a really tough night is like for people who don’t have a home.
This sleep out was actually the second time Gress, executive director for Covenant House Florida, would be sleeping on the ground in the past five days. He had participated in a sleep out with another Covenant House the week before.
“My back is not really looking forward to another night on the concrete,” he jokes. But Gress, who has been a part of the event for four years, is enthusiastic about what this event gives to Central Florida residents.
“It reminds people that this is hard — even for one night,” he says.
Participants started the night with a candlelight vigil at the Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola Park where the group listened to The Eva Weingarten Band play “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus and “Let it Be” by the Beatles. Young people who have been helped by the Covenant House shared their stories with the crowd.
“People showing up to experience what [these homeless youth] do means the world to them,” Kathy Ashby, of Winter Park, says. Ashby, who took part in this year’s sleep out, has supported the Covenant House for more than 10 years.
“This place gives them hope,” she says.
After the vigil, sleepers headed to the Covenant House to eat dinner provided by 4 Rivers Smokehouse. They took part in a panel discussion with kids who have experienced some hardship and came to the Covenant House for help. And then the participants headed outside to experience homelessness for a night.
“Come tomorrow morning,” Gress says, “I think [these participants] will never think about it the same way again.”