ELMHURST – In an effort to raise awareness for homelessness about 2,000 people will sleep outside Nov. 7 during the Sleep Out Saturday fundraiser.
The 12th annual Sleep Out Saturday event is hosted by Bridge Communities, a transitional housing and mentorship program for DuPage County homeless families. It will take place the night of Nov. 7 at about 40 different locations around the western Chicago suburbs.
Sleep Out Saturday will kick off from 6 to 8 p.m. with an outdoor rally in downtown Glen Ellyn at 505 Crescent Blvd. The rally will be emceed by ABC7 Chicago’s Judy Hsu, and Elmhurst’s School of Rock will lead a benefit concert.
Four different sites in Elmhurst will join the outdoor all-night fundraiser. Participants from Elmhurst College, St. Peter’s Church, First United Methodist Church and Immaculate Conception Parish will sleep in cardboard boxes, portable tents and cars, like many homeless families are forced to do every night.
“The ‘sleepout’ is meant to show solidarity with the homeless,” Immaculate Conception Parish’s Director of Christian Ministry Pam Stefik said. “Even though it is only one evening, it gives our teens a taste of what it might be like to live on the streets. They will be sleeping in tents on our campus lawn and will be safe, unlike many who actually live on the street. The evening meal will consist of soup and bread, probably more than many homeless actually eat.”
According to Bridge Communities, every $35 raised provides one night of housing for a homeless family. Since the first Sleep Out Saturday in 2004, more than a million dollars has been raised, and more than 11,000 people have slept outside to sympathize with those who have no other choice.
“The average age of a person who is homeless in DuPage County is 18 years old,” said Simone Salter, one of the organizers of the Elmhurst College site. “These are children who are homeless, and these are children who are unable to go to school.”
According to Bridge Communities, 1,236 households received assistance for rent, security deposits, moving costs or mortgage in 2014 to prevent them from becoming homeless. That same year, Bridge Communities received 2,458 calls requesting information about available housing.
“I absolutely believe that most communities feel there are no homeless in their communities,” Stefik said. “Anyone who works with [DuPage] Pads understands that the homeless are everywhere. ... Many of the homeless fall ‘between the cracks,’ and if they don’t have someone to advocate for them they can and will remain homeless as the bureaucratic red tape is overwhelming.”
“It’s important to acknowledge and to realize that it’s a privilege to have a home, to have shelter,” Salter said.
Bridge Communities and other organizations that help those who are homeless or who struggle with poverty every day make a real difference in the community. Events such as Sleep Out Saturday are just one of the ways in which they help.
“I am at Elmhurst [College] because of Bridge [Communities],” Salter said. “The first time I came to the Elmhurst [College] campus I fell in love. I had the grades to get in but not the financial assets, but Bridge [Communities] gave me a $3,000 scholarship that allowed me to come here.”
For more information about Sleep Out Saturday, go to www.sleepoutsaturday.org.