As I sit and sometimes stand here underneath the cloud covered sky, I quickly realize how fucking lucky I am. I come home every night to a climate-controlled home, take a scorching hot shower and sleep on my pillow-top, Sleep Number bed. I do this while countless youth roam the city in search of a nook to lay down in and food to eat, wondering what tomorrow will bring.
Even though I’m sleeping outside to simulate homelessness, even forgoing a sleeping bag, I cannot even fathom the anxiety, the depression, the humility or the loneliness. Not to mention how vulnerable it must feel. Mainly because I live in an ivory tower, a neighborhood of pristine homes and manicured lawns, a place with barely any crime and where just about everyone waves hello. We also have opinions, preconceived notions, ideas, and/or beliefs that people are homeless for a good reason. Drugs, alcohol, emotional issues. For all intents and purposes we become emotionally detached because it’s not our problem.
However it should be. What I learned tonight in my brief time outside is these individuals are someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, niece, nephew or grandchild. And if you ever took the time to walk up and decide to speak to one of them you’ll discover they have names, faces, hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. They are in need of a sense of security as well as a desire for nurturing love. They yearn to work and be productive, and want to prove to the world that just because they aren’t educated it doesn’t mean they aren’t indeed smart. They don’t want your pity, your apologizes or your forgiveness. They just want a bit of compassion and support.
So as the night slowly starts to turn to dawn, I’ll return to my normal life. Forever etched in the back of my mind is what it feels like to not be able to sleep because of needing to be cognizant of the environment. Having my stomach growl – wanting to know when it will eat next. Or shivering as the wind starts to pick up even though it’s only 59 degrees and by no means a cold night here in the Twin Cities.
I truly appreciate the opportunity and the experience given to me tonight by YouthLink. I also commend the organization for making a monumental impact on providing much needed resources to those battling youth homelessness.
YouthLink provides a safe and supportive refuge for homeless young people between the ages of 16-23. On September 28th, 2014, YouthLink joined forces with local corporate executives and business leaders to raise funds and awareness about youth homelessness by hosting its first ever Executive Sleep Out. In an effort to recreate the conditions homeless youth face every night, over 50 Minnesota executives spent the night outside with little more than a sleeping bag. Scott Petinga was one of them. To learn more about YouthLink or to make a donation, please visit www.YouthLink.org.