The evening began chilly, as we listened to speakers from Covenant House. By the time the a cappella groups came out, we were watching our breath match chimneys and cuddling under blankets. Not to place too much significance on Hollywood, but I think that watching The Pursuit of Happyness is what brought the point of the evening home for me first. I already knew about all of the programs Covenant House has to help homeless teens, and the performances—including an amazing debut by the Freshman Jam Sesh—were pretty upbeat; but the absolute realism of the story had me emotional by the end of the movie (now there’s a surprise…).
After that, the reality of adults, children, and people our age who have to live on the streets truly struck me as I huddled against the bricks—not a very conducive material for huddling, might I add. And the cold and discomfort was only half of the issue, I realized. I compared the unease I felt at the sound of the footsteps of Friday night revelers stumbling onto the esplanade as my companions slept, and the start I gave at the wind rolling a cup along the ground, to the very real dangers of a city sidewalk. In some ways, we did not get the full sense of being homeless on our safe campus, because kids on the streets have to fear gangs, pimps, and drug dealers and resist becoming part of that culture themselves. And we did not face the hopelessness of having to suffer the same ordeal night after night.
Once the weather was too much for us to handle, we moved inside. That was only after a few hours, at 2:30am—I cannot imagine doing that for the entire night and actually sleeping. Moving to a floor and thawing out our chapped faces afforded us an hour and a half of sleep, and as my now-awake mind recalls this, I wonder: if I went through that every night, would I be able to succeed in school or life and make it to a university like this? And that would be without parents proud of my accomplishments. While my parents sent excited wishes of luck and cautioned me to be careful in the cold before the sleep out, most kids who are homeless handle an ironic opposite to my support system, and the idea of that difference sickens me like rage. Sleeping out in the cold may have shortened the disconnect in perspective from us to them, but I still feel that a true understanding of what the youth of Covenant House have gone through is impossible to achieve.
Thankfully, sheer understanding is not the way of getting kids off the streets. Programs like the ones at Covenant House where that understanding is imperative are. It is not easy to help young adults create their futures out of freezing pavements, but I know it is a worthy one. No matter how miserable I felt last night, it was for this clarity; and that is why next year, and the two after that, I will be doing it again.