Yvonne and Henry Heller moved to Naperville in 2010 for job opportunities to support their three children, but in a matter of months, they had nowhere to call home.
“We look like a normal suburban family, and look like it, and we are, I think the thing is to show the face of homeless, and redefine it for people, and show that it can happen to anybody,” said Yvonne.
The Hellers are one of the one 100 families that Bridge Communities helped this year. The not-for-profit organization is based in Glen Ellyn and they make it their goal to provide homes and other living assistance to those in need.
The group raised over $130,000 at their biggest event of the year, Sleep Out Saturday, when 2,000 DuPage County residents slept outside to know what it’s like to be without a home.
“You don’t really think about average everyday people having to rough it,” said Andrew Baise, participating in Wheaton.
Hearing the guest speakers inspired Wheaton resident, Julia Haunenstien. “It’s crazy, but it really puts everything into perspective for me,” she said.
“It’s really cold out tonight so I think it will be a really good experience,” reflected Matt Powell from Wheaton.
The crowd headed off to one of the 54 sleep-outs in the county. At Good Shepherd Church in Naperville, nearly 50 members braved the cold, sleeping in cardboard homes, their cars, or by fireside.
Bridge Communities’ Special Events Manager has slept outside for three years in a row. “For us, it will be over, it will be one night, that we have to do this out of the year, and we will go back to our homes, and we will have a hot shower, and probably have a nap, and then you start to think about everyone else that’s out there,” said Gates.
“In the morning I’ll have a better understanding of kind of what the invisible homeless deal with on a day to day basis, I’d say a better piece of mind of what I need everyday and not just what I want,” said Jim Voigt, a member of Good Shepherd.
Across town at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the fundraising event lasted well into the early morning.
Emilie Peterson helped build a cardboard tunnel, five boxes deep. “I can’t imagine spending another night in here. I don’t know how people do it.”
Overnight in Naperville it was just above 30 degrees, so the reality of what it’s like to be homeless became real.
“If this is even a fraction of what its like that’s just crazy and I’m so incredibly sorry for the people that do have to experience that,” said Jordan Chenoweth, from Good Sheherd.
Youth Pastor, Dan Bierne of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church slept outside in a box. “We were homeless because we were in boxes, but we had a great sense of community. It was chilly, but it was a very warm experience, very cool,” said Bierne.
“You curl up, and you kind of make a cocoon with your sleeping bag, or your blanket, then you’ll finally warm up,” said Julia Wallace at Our Savior’s.
Bridge Communities is continuing to find ways to help the growing number of families in need.
Making special appearances like this one is one way the Heller family is giving back. “Being able to give back, in my time of need is what matters most,” said Yvonne, mom of three.
Roughly 450 families have completed a two-year program at Bridge Communities where they received educational tools and life-skills mentoring on top of a place to call home.
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