Finding sleep may be a struggle. The night may be cold and lonely. Unlike the homeless who have no home to return to, the 1,500 people camping outdoors for Sleep Out Saturday will be able to head back to a warm home and a hot shower come Sunday morning.
For the eighth year in a row, Bridge Communities is holding its Sleep Out Saturday event Nov. 5, which will have 1,500 people from around DuPage County sleeping out for the night.
The event has three goals: To build awareness of homelessness — especially the hidden homeless, which includes families; fundraising to continue providing transitional housing; and building empathy so people have a better understanding of homelessness, said Jennie Gates, special event manager at Bridge Communities.
The nonprofit, based in Glen Ellyn, provides transitional housing to those in need. This year it hopes to raise $130,000 for its transitional housing program, Gates said.
The event has two main groups that participate. The first group includes people who take part with church groups or other organizations, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Those groups usually camp out at a church site. The other group is known as the “Sleep Out Stars” and those include families and individuals that may participate by sleeping out at home, Gates said.
“The Sleep Out goes on dry or wet,” Gates said, adding that so far the forecast looks good for the weekend.
“Everybody who participates in this takes it extremely seriously, especially the church groups,” she said.
Many of the church groups have activities planned throughout the evening, she said. A church might have a soup kitchen for its participants, which helps those who are not homeless to understand the entire experience.
Some of the Naperville churches that will participate include St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church and Naperville Covenant Church. Churches and groups from Sleepy Hollow to Shorewood will be participating on Saturday night.
Participation in the sleep out event has grown over the years, Gates said. When the first sleep out was held there were 450 participants. This year it is expected 1,500 people will participate.
Fundraising is a key component to the event, Gates said. Those who participate with a group have the opportunity to create their own fundraising page online. Social media, like Facebook has helped many participants to gather donations, she said.
Bridge Communities has seen a big increase in the amount of online donations it is receiving. And, this is the second year that people may donate just by using their cell phone. A $10 donation will be made to Bridge Communities just by a person texting ‘Bridge’ to 20222 using a mobile phone.
While it might be hard for a participant to make a large donation, if their friends and family donate it adds up, she said. In this difficult economy, she said, it is hard for people to give as much as they may have in the past.
And, as a result of the economy Bridge Communities has more dual parent clients than in the past, Gates said. With people losing jobs and homes, more families are in need of transitional housing, she said.
“For the longest time we were practically helping all single mums and their families, but now we are seeing an increase in dual parent families,” Gates said.
Bridge Communities has 101 families in its transitional housing program, which is a two-year program, she said.
“It’s not about putting a Band-Aid on a cut,” Gates said. “It’s about giving them tools and capacity to change their lives. It is purely a program to transition lives.”
Gates isn’t only the event planner; she is also a participant.
“It really is life changing,” Gates said. “I really felt that I knew what it was like especially for our young mums with children to be homeless. You don’t sleep well. You have a lot of time to think about what this must be like.”
If you would like to participate in the Sleep Out Saturday there is no deadline to register. Bridge Communities will hold a rally at 6:30 p.m. at its location, 505 Crescent Boulevard in Glen Ellyn. Learn more about the event at Bridge Communities.