More than 30 participants braved the elements in Germantown on Thursday night to raise money and bring awareness to the plight of teen homelessness in Philadelphia and beyond.
Known as the Sleep Out, it’s an event held across the hemisphere that asks business leaders to spend a night out on the streets in an effort to send a message to homeless young adults that they are not forgotten.
It’s sponsored by Covenant House, a nationwide nonprofit whose Philadelphia location is located just off of Germantown Avenue.
After being issued a cardboard box donated by Home Depot and a sleeping bag, each participant was left to their own devices in a secured lot behind Covenant House’s building.
While the conditions are spartan, Covenant House’s Associate Executive Director Hugh Organ observed that it’s often far more than their residents had when they were on the streets.
“Most people aren’t aware that this is a problem in our city, let alone the country,” he said. “When most people envision the homeless, they don’t think of children.”
What it means
The Sleep Out is now in its second year. Last year, 17 local participants collectively raised an estimated $55,000. This year, 31 individuals signed up, and together they have raised more than $85,000 as of Thursday night, exceeding this year’s goal by more than $5,000.
Nationally, Covenant House hopes to raise $2.5 million for its efforts against homelessness, exploitation and human trafficking.
Established in 1999, services began at Covenant House Pennsylvania with a Community Outreach Center where young people were offered a place to eat and get referrals for housing and healthcare, according to staff.
Serving more than 5,000 homeless each year from throughout the city and region, Covenant House Pennsylvania is the largest private child-welfare agency in the Delaware Valley, and the largest provider of services to homeless and runaway youth in Philadelphia.
It provides a range of services to meet the needs of homeless and runaway youth, including Street Outreach programs, the 51-bed Crisis Center in Germantown, a 20-bed transitional living facility in Kensington and a Community Service Center. Homeless youth can stay in the program for up to 18 months.
Expanding their services in New Jersey, Covenant House expects to open two new locations in Camden and Atlantic City in coming months.
One participant on Thursday night was Alyzabeth Smith, 33, who came to Germantown from Wilmington, Del. to participate in the Sleep Out on behalf of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
A tax accountant by trade, she enrolled in the event just over a week ago but was able to raise almost $1,000 in that short time frame. Smith said that she and her sorority is committed to “making sure that people are able to live the best live that they possibly can.”
To help combat the elements, Smith opted to bring several layers of clothing. And as for the possibility of staying up all night?
“That’s not my objective,” she responded, explaining that she was planning to report for work the next day.
More than sleeping out
A candlelight vigil was held to launch the event and memorialize the approximately 40 former Covenant House residents who’ve lost their lives to the ravages of the streets.
Holding banners bearing slogans of remembrance and hope, a procession of Covenant House staff, residents and participants marched with candles in hand to the courtyard of nearby St. Vincent Church.
The vigil has served as a cornerstone event in Covenant House’s history, taking place in various forms since its inception in 1999.
Covenant House Pennsylvania Executive Director Cordella Hill spoke before a recitation of the names of the departed.
“What really pulls at my heart is that we, unfortunately, have to add to the list every year of people that we lost along the way,” she said, “and I think on occasion, I forget because we get new people coming through the door and there’s always more to do.
“These are young people who should have all the hopes and dreams that we have been able to share, and the opportunity to achieve those dreams. These young people matter, they’re important, and they need to know that.”