Homelessness is rife in New York City. To combat this systemic problem and to express solidarity with homeless youth, a group of NYU Stern students joined the Covenant House Sleep Out movement and bedded down in Gould Plaza on Saturday, October 21.
Covenant House is the largest agency serving homeless youth in North America. An entirely private-funded nonprofit, Covenant House provides shelter, education, healthcare, and other services to homeless youth aged 18-21 throughout the Americas. The Sleep Out movement was designed to raise funds while driving empathy for homeless youth around the country. At Sleep Outs, participants hear directly from Covenant House residents/staff and then brave the elements to sleep outside on the pavement for a night.
Planning an overnight fundraiser is no easy feat, but the event was a resounding success. Last year, the Langone Student Government Philanthropy team partnered with Covenant House to host the first-ever Sleep Out on-site at Stern. The 2016 Stern Sleep Out was the first hosted at a graduate school, and Covenant House was excited to continue the partnership with Stern. For 2017, the Langone and Stern Student Governments’ philanthropy teams joined forces to plan and execute the second annual Stern Sleep Out.
The evening’s programming kicked off at 8:15 pm in Kaufman Management Center, with a discussion led by two Newark-based Covenant House staff. The first, development associate Alexandra Polimeni, kicked off the night by sharing the story of a young woman named Lorraine, who had been kicked out of her home by her mother. Lorraine had spent nights sleeping standing up before finding Covenant House.
Next, Covenant House development manager Susana Monteiro spent an hour explaining Covenant House services. Covenant House provides educational and vocational training for its residents, helping them prepare for the GED exam as well as for job interviews. It maintains separate facilities targeted at residents in different life stages: for example, some locations are open to residents who are ready to leave the shelter system, while some are targeted to mothers with young babies.
After the Covenant House staff left campus, the evening shifted into the next phase of programming with speakers from Hakook, a start-up founded by two recent Stern graduates focused on combating homelessness in New York City. Hakook co-founder Isaac Marshall and director of research Christina Wusinich spoke to the Sleep Out participants about the importance of activism; one initiative in particular includes dropping off frequently-overlooked necessities such as feminine hygiene products and socks. Marshall and Wusinich gifted each participant a pair of socks and instructions to pass them on to an individual in need.
The “sleepers” then held a debrief to discuss what impacted them most during the evening’s programming. Most noted that their participation stemmed from wanting to know what it felt like to be homeless.
Sleepers then headed outside and camped out on Gould Plaza. Everyone grabbed a sleeping bag, cardboard box, and garbage bag to make their bed for the evening. Without mattresses or pillows, they used the cardboard boxes to cushion their bodies from the concrete.
Many of Stern’s philanthropic initiatives, such as clothing drives, are impactful to the recipients, but less so to donors. The Stern Sleep Out stands out in that the “sleepers” all heard directly from Covenant House about how their fundraising efforts were making a difference before experiencing the condition of homelessness themselves.
At 5 am, the sleepers woke up, rolled up their sleeping bags, and headed home to their own beds feeling tired, but deeply grateful, and with renewed vigor to continue tackling this social plight.
EDITORS’ NOTE: Contributing Writer Dara Heimowitz is a member of the Langone Student Government Philanthropy team, and played a leadership role in planning the 2017 Stern Sleep Out.
Covenant House hosts events and welcomes donations year-round. The 2017 Stern Sleep Out had raised $8,178 at press time; donations linked to NYU Stern’s event will continue to be accepted through the fundraising portal through January, and delivered in full to Covenant House. To learn more about how to donate to the cause, please visit bit.ly/sternsleepout2017.