Sleeping Out to End Youth Homelessness

The nationally renowned charitable organization, Covenant House, will be teaming up with the New York Red Bulls soccer team to execute a “Sleep Out” event on Friday, October 17th at 7 PM. The event will be held at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ to raise both funding and awareness on the issue of youth homelessness in the New York metropolitan area.

The participants must be 18 years of age to register and will be drawn from the young adult soccer community in both New York and New Jersey, who will sleep outside in a concourse area behind the turnstiles at Red Bull Arena in a display of unity with children and teenagers who sleep every night in the streets.

The fundraising aspect is also a critical component as each participant is expected to raise a minimum of $1,000.00 in order to be a part of the Sleep Out event at Red Bull Arena. These funds will be collected directly by Covenant House which provides the donor with the option to donate through their website or by mailing a check directly to their offices. The participants will not handle or manage any funds, allowing for enhanced transparency.

The “Sleep Out” aims to create a small understanding of the conditions faced by homeless youth. In keeping with that focus, the participants are reminded that the atmosphere is serious, it is not a party or a celebratory situation. The event guidelines strictly prohibit alcoholic beverages in keeping with the tone and focus of the fundraiser.

The event will begin with a modest dinner followed by a “meet and greet” session in the luxury suite area of the stadium where the registered participants will meet and get to know the Covenant House residents. This will allow the young adults from the soccer community a personal interaction with teens and children who have lived on the streets.

Then the participants will head outdoors where they will sleep outside in an area that is covered and has access to rest room facilities. The safety and security of the participating young adults will be the top priority. Covenant House will arrange for the security of the site by working with the management staff of the arena as well as with local law enforcement.

The event will conclude in the morning with a modest breakfast around 7 AM on Saturday, October 18th. The setting at Red Bull Arena will be unique and allow for a large group of participants.

Unsettling Facts

Homelessness is a terrible situation which can happen to just about anyone, given the flat wages, economic stagnation, and rising jobless claims that have characterized the American economy in recent years. The American middle class is being squeezed, and the majority of people admit to living from pay check to pay check with little to no savings. This is due to rising costs for healthcare, food, clothing, and housing.

I have written previously about homelessness (including homeless war veterans), the minimum wage debate, food deserts, and the lack of affordable housing. It is a confluence of these issues which very often leads to homelessness and the disintegration of the family unit in certain American demographic classes.

The despair caused by the financial stress of rising costs on essential needs very often creates a culture of violence and abuse within families. This scenario leads to the increased likelihood of teenagers and children becoming homeless. In fact, 2 million young people experiencing at least some period of living on the streets this year.

The experts on this issue are concerned with the incidence rates of homelessness in teens and children because of the inability of that age group to support themselves financially or otherwise. Furthermore, a study by Harvard University found that 71% of extremely low-income renters spend over half of their income on housing. This expenditure creates a scenario where the monthly budget is incapable of affording other necessary expenses.

This same study also revealed that rent subsidies are available to only 24% of eligible households. The lack of available affordable housing further complicates this issue, and all of these factors collide to make homelessness a reality for many people should they suffer just one unexpected financial setback.

A teenager or young adult working full time at a minimum wage job in many parts of this country would not earn enough money to afford housing without the help of some form of government assistance program, according to The National Coalition for the Homeless. This fact places that population at greater risk for homelessness as well as an increased likelihood of repeated periods of living on the streets.

In my previous work on the minimum wage debate, I researched numerous reports of fast food and other service industry workers holding full time jobs and living in their car because they could not afford to rent housing. That is a sad indictment on our society and for the need to raise the minimum wage across the board.

The fact that only one-third of the 9 million American households that would qualify for public assistance for housing receive benefits, is an alarming statistic indicative of a much larger problem.

Covenant House cared for 56,000 youth last year in 27 cities across the United States, Canada, and Latin America. In New Jersey specifically, the organization provided services to 5,000 homeless youth in Newark, Atlantic City, Montclair, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Camden, and Asbury Park.

My home state of New Jersey voted in a referendum to raise the minimum wage but it has a problem because the affordable housing supply is not nearly where it needs to be to meet the demand. The high cost of living here also hampers any real progress that could have been gained from the minimum wage increase.

Getting Involved

The National Coalition for the Homeless and their tracking data states that 33% of all homeless people are youths under the age of 24. That is a significant number and it is indicative of the immediate and critical need for further support and awareness of this issue so we can provide safe living conditions for the youth in our respective communities.

You can get involved with this event by visiting the Covenant House web site at www.covenanthouse.org or by visiting the New York Red Bulls web site. If you can, take a moment to imagine sleeping outside on the streets, with the winter months approaching. Now imagine that you are a child or a teenager in that situation, with no help in sight. If that image upsets you, then I urge you to get involved with this event or with the programs offered by Covenant House. You can make a difference in the lives of homeless children.

(Statistics and some background information courtesy of Covenant House, The National Coalition for the Homeless, and Harvard University)



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