Covenant House Georgia, a shelter for homeless youth, is taking its quarterly Sleep Out event virtual in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and is asking all to participate.
Set for April 24, the event is tied to Sleep Out America, a national initiative hosted by Covenant House’s headquarters in New York. The nonprofit has shelters in more than 31 cities across the United States, Canada and Latin America.
Sleep Out will begin at 8 p.m. and will include live updates from front-line staff and youth at Covenant House shelters across the country, Covenant House President Kevin Ryan, interactive activities for families and individuals and surprise guests.
Participants can camp in the back yard, decide to shut off their heat or air conditioning, forgo blankets for the night or create a fort to sleep in.
Allie Redd, executive director of Covenant House Georgia, said the event is meant to raise awareness of youth homelessness and funds for the programs that help them.
“We’re trying to sleep out with our young people in solidarity … to show them support,” she said. “… It’s important because it gives people a real-life experience and it sends a big message to our young people that we see them, that we support them, that we love them and that we’re walking side by side with them.”
According to a news release, about 4.2 million youths experience homelessness each year. Redd said there are about 3,300 homeless youths in metro Atlanta. The Georgia organization, whose shelter is in northwest Atlanta, has served 1,800 individuals this year.
“We’re actually looking to expand to provide more services and housing for young people,” she said.
The Georgia organization has a 50-bed crisis shelter, but its on-sight transitional living/independent living program can house 24 more and its supportive housing can accommodate 15 others. Its residential program serves youths 18 to 24 and its drop-off program helps individuals 16 to 24.
Redd said last year’s Sleep Out drew about 30 participants, and about 50 have already signed up this year but she’s hoping about 100 join in.
The Georgia organization decided to hold the event virtually instead of delaying it until after the pandemic ended because the youths it serves need funds now, not later, and due to the uncertainty associated with the outbreak, she said. So far $15,000 has been raised, but she hopes to bring in $45,000 to $50,000.
“We don’t know what the future is going to hold as far as raising funds to support our young people,” Redd said. “We are in need of events. This is what helps support the ongoing efforts of the operation.
“We have not closed our doors and are always at capacity or above capacity. Our need for funds to support them also is ongoing.”
She also said some homeless shelters stopped taking in new residents due to concerns about them spreading the virus to its existing residents.
“This time is particularly important for us to be able to continue to operate more so now than ever,” Redd said. “COVID-19 has hit our community pretty hard, and our young people need to have a place where they can seek refuge and be able to prevent becoming infected with COVID-19 and being supported beyond this pandemic.
“We really need and appreciate everyone’s support in order to provide housing and all the supportive services wrapped with unconditional love and respect for all of our young people.”