Imagine having no place to go. Sleeping outside in the cold, or the only place of refuge is inside your car. That’s the reality for some homeless individuals and for one night, groups across DuPage County experienced what they go through every night. Two of those groups were here in Naperville.
Sleep Out Saturday
High School students from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church and Community United Methodist Church (CUMC) participated in Bridge Communities’ annual Sleep Out Saturday. This year was high school senior, Nicole’s, third year taking part, and the first for senior, Michael.
“It’s definitely out of someone’s comfort zone,” said Nicole. “It’s definitely stepping out there and I would 100 percent recommend it because it is a great opportunity to learn.”
“I think it’s important because it makes you a well-rounded person and allows you to understand what other people are like in the community and how to better support and better the people around you,” said Michael. The teens at Our Saviour’s heard from a Bridge Communities speaker who talked about her experience looking for help, and recently graduating the non-profit’s program.
“That realness and bringing it to life brings it out of the textbooks, brings it out of the statistics. It makes it real, it makes it vulnerable for them,” said director of youth ministries at Our Saviour’s, Stephanie Engel. “And that just changes their lives and how they go out and impact the community from now on.”
At CUMC, high school junior, Peter, learned that very lesson. “My takeaway was, you really got to think about what you have right now,” said Peter. “I’m lucky to have a house, I’m lucky to have parents that support me and there are people who are less fortunate than me who don’t get that kind of thing and I should be really thankful for everything that I have.”
Work at Bridge Communities
Bridge Communities has hosted the Sleep Out Saturday event for 18 years. The goal is to raise awareness about homelessness and raise funds for the organization’s transitional housing program. 90 percent of the families Bridge Communities’ serves are single moms, half of them being survivors of domestic violence.
“They have an opportunity to be in our program and live without the burden of rent so that they could save money, eliminate debt, and really get on the road to recovery and self-sufficiency,” said Karen Wells, CEO of Bridge Communities.
This night hits home for Wells, as she herself experienced homelessness growing up. “For us it looked like going and staying with neighbors over the course of time and staying with family members,” said Wells. “I remember us moving in with my older sister and her four children and husband and it was like four or five of us, so it was a house full. And that is not dissimilar to what is experienced by many of the families that we serve.”
Still Time to Participate
The main night out was on Saturday, but groups can still participate in Sleep Out Saturday through December 4. This year, they’ve had around 750 people take part and hope to reach 1,000 participants by December.
Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ reports.
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