November isn’t the ideal time of year to spend a night outdoors, but that’s exactly what many residents recently did for the fourth annual Sleep Out Saturday. The event put on by Bridge Communities asks members of the community to spend a night in the cold to see first-hand what it’s like to be homeless.
For Melissa Bills’ third Sleep Out Saturday as Associate Pastor for Saint Timothy Lutheran Church in Naperville, she wanted members of her congregation to get the full effect of being homeless. The best way to do that was sleeping in low 40-degree weather.
“We set up our boxes and our tents and figured out how to keep our boxes from falling over and how to make doors over the edges of our boxes so that the air didn’t get in,” said Bills. “The experience of sleeping outside on a November night is a big piece of learning.”
Barb, Steve, Jacob, and Mathew Bernardi have participated in all four Sleep Out Saturdays. Barb feels the experience is an eye-opener, especially for her children.
“I don’t think they realized there could be kids in their school, kids in the neighborhood, kids that are homeless and don’t look that way,” said Barb Bernardi. “There’s no way to look homeless so I think it’s a good opportunity for them to see outside themselves.”
Spending a night in the elements was just one of the ways Bills raised awareness. One of the activities she created was to write what they would put in their backpack if that’s all they had to live on.
“I think I would have my proper gear as far as dress, tent, and sleeping bag,” said Barb’s husband, Steve Bernardi. “I would bring a photo of family just as a reminder of what to work for and what to progress with to give you that motivation and keep going.
“Playing cards, and a pen and paper to doodle around a little and fun things like that,” said their oldest son, Jacob.
Bills said she was impressed with the answers that were given and stressed how important it is that we treat our homeless brothers and sisters equally.
“You may find yourself staying with grandparents or aunts or neighbors down the street or a friend,” said Bills. “Knowing that it’s just a string of bad luck that can put you in a homeless position, not because you did anything wrong or because you’re a bad person.”
While the participants got to wake up and have a pancake breakfast, the experience gave them an appreciation for what the homeless struggle with everyday.
“I feel sad that they don’t have a home and they have to be out all the time and they don’t have enough money,” said Mathew Bernardi.
After the pancake breakfast members used the church bathrooms to brush their teeth, wash up and change clothes in time for the nine a.m. church service.
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