Covenant House 'Sleep Out' sheds light on youth homelessness

On what's expected to be the coldest night of the season, community leaders and senior executives from the Covenant House of Greater Washington are sleeping outside Thursday night in solidarity with young people experiencing homelessness. 

The annual "Sleep Out" event is held in November each year during Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. This year, it's at the Wharf, and temperatures are expected to be in the 20s. 

Imagine being a young person and not having a warm place to call home. The "Sleep Out" aims to raise awareness and funds for the 4.2 million youth who face homelessness every year. 

Angela Jones Hackley, the chief executive officer at Covenant House of Greater Washington, told FOX 5 that the night is all about "being in solidarity with young people." 

"There are hundreds of kids that don't have a permanent place to call home, so the ‘Sleep Out’ is about raising awareness," she explained. "It's about being in solidarity with young people, saying 'I see you, I support you, I may not understand but for tonight I'm going to give up the comfort of my bed, and I'm going to raise some critical funds to make sure you also have a permanent place for you to rest your head at night.'"

Hackley said the organization's goal this year was $200,000, but they're currently at $284,000 and it's still growing.

"These funds are critical to providing the wraparound support and the residential services that these young people really need," she said.  

FOX 5's Joe Clair serves as a board member for the Covenant House of Greater Washington. He's participated in the "Sleep Out" for the past eight years and jokes about being the board member who raises the least amount of money. 

This year, things are different. Clair's colleagues said he has been a "fundraising guru," sharing links on social media and details on his new show FOX 5's "DMV Zone."

"The ‘Sleep Out’ is a symbolic gesture to let people know what it's like to sleep outside," Clair explained. 

The experience he said makes people begin to think about the young people who are 18,19,20 and 21 years old who have to make a tough choice every night. 

Clair also serves as a music teacher for the youth at Covenant House of Greater Washington. 

When we spoke with Clair Friday morning he said he hopes the experience will shed light on what it feels like to be a homeless youth in cold, winter weather.

"I slept out for one night. It was freezing cold. I was uncomfortable. I tossed and turned all night," Clair said. "But the other thing that we're saying is that we only had to do it for one night. In our region, where we are seeing all kinds of money getting thrown around for this, that, and the other - people are still having to find a place to sleep each night."

He said the Covenant House of Greater Washington focuses on youth between the ages of 18 and 24 who fall through the cracks.

Both he and Hackley hope the "Sleep Out" will help turn the world’s attention towards the critical issue and amplify Covenant House’s boldest mission: to end youth homelessness.

To support Covenant House of Greater Washington, donate here.