Sleep out in the park

A small group of folks gathered Monday evening into Tuesday morning to do a unique event – Sleep out in the Park.  The point of the event was to raise awareness of the challenges around homelessness, especially in light of the pandemic.

Doing sleep outs to raise awareness around homelessness is not a new idea.  But doing it in the midst of a pandemic is.  Our event included a handful of volunteers who worked behind the scenes, both on site and off site, and three of us who did interviews.   We live streamed the event and interviewed many people throughout the event.  The folks we interviewed ranged from social service providers, pastors, a bishop, people who experienced homelessness, elected and government officials, experts on the subject, and the founder of the Housing First model.  They were incredible interviews.  You can catch them all at the Charles Bruce Foundation Youtube channel.  I’ll also be posting individual interviews each day to give you a chance to watch them if you so desire.  Each interview ranges from 10 minutes to 25 minutes total.

My take aways from the event are this:

  • I heard themes throughout the interviews.  Some of the themes include correcting misperceptions about those who experience homelessness (lazy, get a job, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, etc).  When people are actually working with actual homeless people, you quickly learn that the perceptions are inaccurate.  Other themes that emerged were the brokenness of society and systems that either keep people in poverty or do more harm to their efforts to pull them out.  We’re the richest nation in history, yet we don’t supposedly have enough money to get people out of poverty when smaller nations have been able to do it?
  • Imago Dei – you might be asking what this is.  It’s Latin for Image of God.  I specifically mentioned it in one of the interviews because I kept hearing the idea without it being specifically spoken.  People who experience homelessness are created in the image of God, like everyone else.  This means they have dignity and value because they exist.  People do not have value because of what they do or produce.  This is a vital part of the foundation that exists in efforts to overcome homelessness, regardless of whether it is specifically stated or not.
  • The coming tsunami of evictions and homelessness.  No one is prepared for Aug. 22 when the PA evictions moratorium is set to expire.  When the moratorium expires, evictions will start.  And that is going to lead to a great deal of homelessness – swamping an already stressed system.
  • Technology is beautiful and a challenge.  We struggled at times – our hotspots didn’t always work, we had to move our computers closer to them, there were delays, there were interruptions.  But doing the event the way we did allowed us to reach a wider audience and interview people from across the country (literally).  It allowed us to make the issue of homelessness a bit more personal.
  • There are great people out there doing what they can to end homelessness.  You’ll see what I mean if you watch the interviews.  I was greatly appreciative of everyone who took the time to do the interviews.  And we were more than happy to highlight each of them.  Please support these folks and agencies in their efforts to serve our neighbors and be in community with them.
  • We got a small, tiny, taste, first hand, of homelessness – but with better accommodations – which only highlighted the real challenges.  We had bathrooms available for our use (something that homeless people don’t have).  We had shelter (a pavilion in which we were welcome to use).  We had hotspots.  We had a volunteer that made amazing food for us.  The tiny bit I’m talking about then was the “sleeping” part.  I had trouble sleeping.  Maybe it was because I slept in a hammock attached to the pavilion and worried about falling out in the middle of the night.  Maybe it was because of the heat we stayed out in.  Maybe it was because of the darkness around us.  Maybe it was the skunk that visited our camp in the middle of the night.  Maybe it was the bicyclist who rode through the park at 2:30am.  Maybe it all this and more.  Regardless – these are everyday things that those experiencing homelessness have to deal with.  And on top of it, they have to figure out how to survive the day.

So, what’s next?  Good question.  We had a good number of viewers and a good level of interest in the topic (which we were really pleased with).  We have people who want to do something about homelessness.  Plans are in the works for what is next.  If you’d like to be on the list to find out what our next steps are and/or how you can help, I welcome you to send me your contact information – send me your email and your name. Tell me why you care about homelessness.  And what skills and talents you have to offer. Email me at pastormatthewbest@gmail.com.  Thank you.  And if you are a praying person – I welcome your prayers too.

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