Sleep Out Saturday raises money for transitional housing

Sleep Out Saturday aims to raise money for transitional housing

The ground gets cold on November nights, but that's not going to stop some 2,000 people from voluntarily sleeping in tents, cars and cardboard boxes on Saturday.

In a bid to raise money for Bridge Communities, a nonprofit charity that provides transitional housing for homeless people, makeshift campouts will be going on at about 50 sites across the Western suburbs.

"It's to draw attention to the invisible homeless," said Chad Pedigo, special events director for the Glen Ellyn-based charity.

Pedigo said that includes families who are barely hanging on by sleeping in friends' basements, at family members' homes, in cars and, in some cases, spending nights literally on the streets.

"Bridge Communities is the largest provider of transitional housing in DuPage County. We're specifically dedicated to serving homeless families. What we provide for them is stability," Pedigo said.

Once a family is accepted into Bridge Communities' program, Pedigo said, it is assigned a case manager and given financial, psychological, financial and/or nutritional counseling, as well as temporary housing.

Homelessness in DuPage County is not uncommon, he said.

"In 2015, we received 2,253 calls from people experiencing a housing crisis," he said.

Last year, the organization provided more than 84,000 nights of housing for more than 130 families, which includes providing homes for 245 children.

Marking its 13th year, Sleep Out Saturday is Bridge's largest fundraiser of the year. Last year, the event generated about $140,000, Pedigo said, through pledged donations.

Several organizations have been involved with the event for years.

One of those is a group from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Naperville.

"This is our fifth or sixth year," said Chris Chenoweth, youth group leader and church council member.

Chenoweth said 20 to 30 members of the congregation will set up sleeping quarters in the church parking lot, in cars and in a church shelter. They will be joined by a group of about 30 Boy Scouts and about 35 Plainfield North High School students.

He said Good Shepherd's night begins around 6:30 p.m.

"They start to build their cardboard homes for the night," he said. Participants bring their own boxes, tape and sleeping bags.

A few hours later, participants wait in line outside the church for a chance to come inside and have a basic meal of soup and tea. While indoors, they can also watch a video and listen to a guest speaker from Bridge Communities. Then most participants head back outside to brave the elements until daybreak.

Chenoweth said it's difficult to sleep well under those conditions.

"You're on cold ground, you're restless if you can sleep at all. And you can't sleep long because your body gets stiff," he said. "We've had zero degree temperatures before. I've got to give the kids credit."

Members of the group are given a small breakfast Sunday morning before a special 45-minute church service.

Chenoweth said the experience helps students empathize with and become more aware of classmates who may be dealing with homelessness.

"It's your next-door neighbor. It's kids you go to school with who you don't even know are homeless because they don't want to talk about it," he said. "It becomes very impactful for them."

Chenoweth said participants at Good Shepherd are asked to raise a minimum of $25 per person in pledges for Bridge Communities.

Pedigo said several of the volunteer groups will meet from 6 to 8 p.m. in Bridge Communities' parking lot at 505 Crescent Blvd. in Glen Ellyn for a rally before departing to spend the night at their respective Sleep Out locations.

The rally will feature guest speakers who have been helped by Bridge Communities, performances by School of Rock musicians and appearances by K-LOVE radio personalities, as well as a food drive and a winter glove drive.

Pedigo said he is awed by participants' willingness to help.

"About 2,000 people are going to give up their home and warm bed for a night so a homeless family can have a home," he said.

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Proceeds from Sleep Out Saturday will help Bridge Communities provide transitional housing for people in need. Daily Herald file photo
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