Ms. Elyse Martin-Smith
Have you ever imagined what it would be like if you didn’t have a home? If you didn’t have a family or a place to sleep? If you didn’t have the device you are reading this on at this very moment? Many people around the world are deprived of these simple opportunities that we take for granted. However, sometimes it is enlightening to forgo these privileges and live without them, so that we can be more empathetic to those who actually don’t have them.
The Spectrum Sleep Out was a great way to experience this in an organized manner. Spectrum is an organization that works to prevent homelessness for young adults and youth in Vermont. They have had multiple sleepouts, with some for adults, like in Burlington. This year was the first year that CVU participated in the Spectrum Sleep Out as a school.
Mia Brumstead was a leader in organizing this event at CVU. This occurred on Thursday, April 5th, at the CVU grounds from eight at night to eight in the morning. The Spectrum Sleep Out was an event where roughly 40 kids and teachers slept with tents or without tents in the 20 degree weather overnight. The purpose of the sleep out was to raise awareness and to fundraise for Spectrum, with the end goal of eventually preventing homelessness around the country.
Mia Brumsted, a CVU sophomore, gave me some information on how she organized this event. “In the beginning of the year Mark Reidman, who’s the executive director of Spectrum came to CVU… We just started talking about how CVU has never done one before and I think that really struck me… so I thought it’s only fitting that we do one at CVU because of how inclusive our community is.”
When asked about her favorite part of the night she said, “when Mark came and brought Kathleen, who was at one point in her life homeless… but her life was completely turned around because of Spectrum, and I think listening to her talk to everyone at the Sleep Out was very meaningful and super informative.” For me, the largest takeaway from the night was also hearing Kathleen’s first hand experience. Mia then added, “I hope that even after I leave CVU that this will be a tradition… and I hope that as a community we can be more aware of the homeless community and the problems they face every day.”
My experience was very unique and different than I expected it to be. I slept in a tent with some friends, which is what many people did. I slept an insulated sleeping bag and two warm layers of clothes. Well, maybe sleeping isn’t the right word. In total I got less than four hours of sleep, which is very generous compared to what my comrades got. Afterwards, I was convinced I almost had frostbite because my toes were pasty and white (gross!). I was so cold, but that was only after one night. Imagine what it would be like after a week! Then, I had to give my PLP presentation. I was so tired after that, but then I thought about what it would be like to work a long job after a restless night out on the streets like I had.
What shocked me was that this was much harder than I anticipated, and that people usually don’t have a tent, or don’t have friends, or don’t have all the amenities that I had while I was doing this. This really changed my perspective on how we need to help prevent homelessness. Experiencing what it feels like in real life, in such a cold place such as Vermont, it really made me think about how I can help.
Many homeless people have family troubles or mental health issues, (although this is not always the case, and in my opinion can be a stereotype), but in reality this shows that they do not have somewhere to turn or the resources to do so. Some of my privileges in the sleepout were that I had an emergency contact, friends, and Netflix. These things made my experience much better than it would have been if I hadn’t had these privileges.
My experience was much better than if I had to worry about getting to school the next day, if I was even able to go to school. My experience was much better than if I had to worry about finding food the next morning. My experience was much better than if I had to worry about doing the most simple things like going to the bathroom, or eating food, or where I would sleep the next night. Mia added, “Our lives are so much easier compared to what Kathleen had to go through. I mean, I never have to worry about where I’m going to sleep the next night and ‘Am I going to have a meal?’ That’s all given.”
Participating in the Sleep Out was very enlightening and it made me think much deeper about helping our community than I have in the past. Overall I would suggest this experience to anyone who’s curious, but I would recommend bringing about five more layers of socks. If sleeping outside in the cold doesn’t appeal to you, which is the case with many people, you can still help by volunteering at local shelters such as Spectrum or COTS. By contributing you are taking a step in the right direction to solving homelessness. You are giving resources to people who can’t even get a good night of sleep, or can’t even feed their children. You are helping people struggling with addiction, and giving them the ability to move past that and create a good life for themselves. In conclusion, contributing to the community helps to make a lasting difference on a person’s life and improve their life forever.
Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities:
- May 6th COTS Walk in Burlington http://cotsonline.org/get-involved-2/newsevents/cots-walk/
- Mentoring and Meal donation at Spectrum http://www.spectrumvt.org/volunteer/
- May 5th Multicultural Youth Leadership Conference at Champlain College http://www.spectrumvt.org/events/youth-leadership-conference/
- Other resources/events: