Sleep Out Saturday finds new way to raise awareness of homelessness
Bridge Communities had to reconfigure Saturday night's 17th annual Sleep Out Saturday fundraiser due to the ongoing coronavirus.
The Glen Ellyn-based nonprofit is dedicated to assisting homeless families in DuPage County, and Sleep Out Saturday gives participants a brief exposure to the experiences of those who lack consistent shelter.
Previous Sleep Out Saturdays drew large community and church groups together to sleep rough outside in parks or in vehicles overnight.
But this year, Bridge Communities is asking individuals and families to stage their own Sleep Out Saturdays closer to home (on Saturday night or another date through Dec. 5). With the change, Bridge Communities is offering a participant tool kit and is streaming an online presentation at 8 p.m.
"We've had to pivot, and that's the key word," said Bridge Communities CEO Karen Wells about COVID-19's effect on the organization.
In addition to Sleep Out Saturday, Bridge Communities had to safely reconfigure its intake process, mentoring and other services for homeless families.
Wells worries that homeless numbers will increase with coronavirus-caused unemployment and eviction moratoriums set to be lifted next year. So Wells hopes this year's event will live up to its reputation as one of Bridge Communities' biggest fundraisers ($1.5 million was cumulatively raised by the past 16 Sleep Out Saturdays).
"It's really near and dear to me," said Wells, who herself experienced homelessness while being raised in a family of seven that moved from home to home.
"About 10% of our families here in DuPage County are what we would call homeless," Wells said. "And what we mean by that is they're either doubled up living with another family, or they have significant challenges in finding a home."
Michelle Ambroz of Naperville is a beneficiary of Bridge Communities. Ambroz and her three children faced homelessness as a result of what she describes as a "horrific divorce."
"Without Bridge Communities, I would not be where I am currently," said Ambroz, whose turnaround story is detailed on the Bridge Communities website. "Their programs are essential to single mothers or families who have been through hardships. I am eternally grateful to them."
Even though it might bring back memories of unhappier times, Ambroz's family plans on be participating in this year's Sleep Out Saturday.
"It's just to kind of put things back into perspective, Ambroz said. "Never to forget where you came from."
For more information, visit sleepoutsaturday.org or call Bridge Communities at (630) 403-5091.