By LINDSAY CAREY
Four different faith-based congregations came together to educate the youth about the effects of homelessness and to support programs that benefit the homeless.
Two Christian churches, the First Congregational Church of Southington and Plantsville Congregational church, partnered with Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation and Berlin Mosque for the Southington Solidarity Sleep Out last week.
“We had over 40 people, which was more than I ever expected for the first time we’ve done this,” said First Congregational Church of Southington Pastor Dawn Karlson.
The event raised money to support Southington Community Services, Bread for Life, and the Friendship Center in New Britain, which is the closest homeless shelter in the area.
The groups are still collecting money and hope to raise a total of $500 for this cause.
The solidarity sleep out included a presentation by the Faces of Homelessness, which is run by Hands on Hartford.
Two individuals from the homelessness advocacy group spoke about their own first-hand accounts of homeless.
“Both of the men that spoke had been successful in their careers,” said Karlson. “This really showed the youth how one change in their life led them to being without a home.”
Hearing from the homeless caused the youth at the event to sympathize more instead of being judgmental.
“My kids talked about how they had to put aside some of their preconceived notions of homeless people,” said Youth director at Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation Marci Baxter. “They started to see them as people, realize everybody has a story, and there are reasons for why these people ended up in the situation that they’re in.”
Another way that the youth sympathized with the homeless was by attempting to sleep outside in the cold of January. None of the youth made it through the night, and while outside many of them said they couldn’t even get to sleep.
Karlson said that this revelation caused the group to wonder how a person could go out and get a job without a good night of sleep. The youth also seemed to discover the lack of hope that many homeless people must feel.
“One of the kids said to me, ‘We all knew that we could come inside if we wanted or that we would be asleep in our beds the next night, but those without a home don’t have that,’” said Karlson. “‘They don’t know when they will sleep in a bed next.’”
The youth group also learned how they can advocate for affordable housing, which is the largest cause of homeless. Karlson said this sparked some of the people in her group and they’re hoping to start working on this.
Baxter said the group learned that speaking to legislators and being aware of some of the things that are going on in the state can help tremendously in the fight to end homelessness.
She also said that they learned going to a homeless person directly, one-on-one, is another way to help.
“You can develop relationships with them and give them hope,” said Baxter.
The three congregations also discussed the issue of homelessness from the perspectives of the different religions as well.
“The program was well-conceived and well-operated,” said Baxter. “I think it really hit home for some of the kids.”