November 12, 2019


Dr. Gabriel Esteban & Lydia Stazen: World’s Big Sleep Out and Ending Homelessness within This Generation

Thousands across the globe—from Singapore to Croatia—will sleep outside on Dec. 7 in solidarity with and in support of people experiencing homelessness. In Chicago, DePaul’s Institute of Global Homelessness is hosting the World’s Big Sleep Out on the Lincoln Park Campus. It’s one of IGH’s many initiatives to help end street homelessness around the world. In this episode, Lydia Stazen, executive director of IGH, joins DePaul’s president, Dr. Gabriel Esteban, in conversation about the Big Sleep Out, IGH’s place at DePaul, and IGH’s plans to turn the energy and momentum of Big Sleep Out into long-term, meaningful action.



LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host, Linda Blakley, vice president of University Marketing and Communications.

Imagine a world where street homelessness has been completely eliminated. Everyone has a place to call home, a home that offers security, safety, autonomy, and growth. This world isn't only a dream. A group at DePaul is working to make it come true. The Institute of Global Homelessness at DePaul University supports an emerging global movement to end street homelessness within one generation, and advocacy plays a large role in achieving that goal.

In December, major cities across the globe will hold the World's Big Sleep Out to encourage solidarity with and support those experiencing homelessness. The IGH is hosting Chicago's Big Sleep Out at DePaul. Lydia Stazen, Executive Director of the Institute of Global Homelessness, is here to tell us more about the Sleep Out and the institute's work. She joins me in conversation with DePaul's president, Dr. Gabriel Esteban, on a topic close to his heart, ending homelessness.

Thank you both for being here.

DR. GABRIEL ESTEBAN: Thank you, Linda.

LYDIA STAZEN: It's great to be here this morning.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I'd like to start with one question that I'm hoping each of you will answer for me. Why does this issue matter to you? Lydia?

LYDIA STAZEN: Yeah. When I came to Chicago when I was a junior in college for an internship, it was my first time experiencing a big city. I grew up in rural Michigan. And it was really seeing people living on the street every day in a way that I had never witnessed before that caused me to wonder about the issue, and so I did a lot of reading and studying and I interned for an organization that ran a couple of homeless shelters. So, really, since my own college experience, I have always looked for ways to impact this issue no matter where I was living.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Seeing it up close and personal made a difference to you.

LYDIA STAZEN: Absolutely.

LINDA BLAKLEY: And Dr. Esteban?

DR. GABRIEL ESTEBAN: Yeah. Growing up in a poor country, such as the Philippines, and seeing poverty in a whole lot of places and seeing entire families homeless, living in the streets, it just hits you. And moving to this country when I started to do graduate work, I thought there won't be any homelessness in such a wealthy country. It came as a surprise to me to see how much it is an issue no matter how wealthy the country is. You realize that I've been blessed, we've been blessed, me and my wife have been blessed more by circumstance than anything else, that we were given opportunities. A lot of times in visiting with some of our marginalized populations, you realize that the circumstances around their birth sometimes leads to certain situations such as homelessness. That is just very challenging or difficult to contemplate.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Following up on that, Dr. Esteban, the social justice-oriented work of IGH is aligned with the university's mission. It's even part of the Grounded in Mission strategic plan. Why is it important to have this institute and this work at DePaul?

DR. GABRIEL ESTEBAN: One of the things that distinguishes DePaul, even among our Catholic sister institutions, is our mission, who we are and who we try to serve, and that calls us to address pressing issues of the day. In this case, homelessness, I think, is a very pressing issue of today. And with IGH, we try and develop leaders. We try to foster knowledge sharing as we try to eradicate homelessness throughout the world, and that's a very Vincentian response to the Vincentian question: What must be done?

LINDA BLAKLEY: Lydia, homelessness is top of the agenda in the coming months at the United Nations. The UN Commission of Social Development has announced that homelessness and affordable housing are the theme for the 2020 meeting. Why is this significant? And how is IGH involved?

LYDIA STAZEN: Yeah. This is really significant because in the United Nations documentation, in their language, in their Sustainable Development Goals, all of the language is around poverty, and homelessness is never specifically mentioned. It's mentioned in a couple of older reports. But for the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations, a commission is going to spend two weeks discussing and planning and writing language around what homelessness means and around the responsibilities of Member States to address it. We've been working with the Vincentian Family and with many other partners at the United Nations on making the most of this two-week session. IGH will be there (at) the United Nations in New York in February doing a series of side events and presentations around the issue of homelessness.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Dr. Esteban, what made you want to bring the Sleep Out to DePaul in Chicago?

DR. GABRIEL ESTEBAN: The Sleep Out is a very visible commitment on our part to the cause of ending street homelessness. By doing this, we're partnering with 50 other cities around the world, and we believe our Sleep Out in the Quad at our Lincoln Park campus will help towards that cause. Proceeds from the World's Biggest Sleep Out, where we hope to have as many as 50,000 people participate, will be split between international and local organizations that work to end homelessness. The Institute for Global Homelessness is one of the international beneficiaries, along with UNICEF and the Malala Fund. Among local charities, the Chicago Big Sleep Out and All Chicago Making Homelessness History, they are the lead among 75 partner organizations which work in Chicago to help end homelessness. Because of their partnership and through their work with different organizations, which includes data analytics, financial assistance, all the training and technical assistance and research, they've been able to help reduce homelessness in Chicago by 20 percent since 2015.

LINDA BLAKLEY: And Lydia, how is the DePaul community stepping up already? And what can people expect if they sign up?

LYDIA STAZEN: One of the things that I've experienced as part of the DePaul community since I started working for the institute back in February is there is a true passion here around the issue of homelessness. I see it everywhere. I see it among our faculty, among our students, among our administration. There are lots of activities happening around this issue. There is a Discover class where students learn about the issue. There are professors who study the issue and bring it into their classrooms. And so when we introduced the idea of doing the Sleep Out here, people stepped up. And so we have a planning committee that I'm working with in partnership with the Office of Mission and Ministry. Again, kind of reinforcing those Vincentian values that are here. We have a big planning committee that's taking on the hard work of having this event. We have had students and faculty and staff register to participate in the Sleep Out itself. And some folks who don't want to sleep outside on December 7th are donating.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Dr. Esteban, homelessness on college campuses is a widespread phenomenon. A 2014 study estimated that approximately 50 DePaul students each quarter experience homelessness. How does DePaul support these students?

DR. GABRIEL ESTEBAN: DePaul has some innovative resources available to these students. One is that last year, for example, we had 40 students utilize our DePaul Emergency Assistance Fund, and these 40 students requested a total of $33,000. Out of that $33,000, $25,000, roughly three-fourths, went to help pay rent for these students. It's estimated that about 50 to 60 of our students every quarter are housing insecure. That's a fairly significant number. One of the things St. Vincent de Paul said was that without peace of mind, it is difficult to succeed in any duty. Can you imagine you're a student balancing the demands of going to college and working and worrying about a place to sleep? We've partnered with Depaul USA and we have the Dax House Project. What it is is we provide housing working with them for students in two houses. One is located near Midway and the other is in the Ukrainian Village. It's a place where we not only help provide housing, it's heavily subsidized housing, there is also counseling and some other services which we provide to these students. What's interesting, and I guess it's expected in some way, is the students who are housed there, they go from being C and D students to being A students within one quarter. It's been a great partnership. We've hosted two galas for Dax, it happens every summer, where we try and raise money. Out of the first annual gala, which was two years ago, it helped provide a down payment to purchase the home in Midway. We've had a few successes with our students. Obviously, the goal is to be able to provide housing for housing-insecure students, for all of the housing-insecure students. I mean, you realize you make a difference in the lives of the students, so that's something very near and dear to the heart of both me and Jo.

LYDIA STAZEN: And if I could interject here, too. DePaul University is not unique in having students who are experiencing homelessness. We see that issue across the United States. And as a matter of fact, I was talking with our colleagues in Tshwane, South Africa, earlier this week about some of the challenges that they are facing in their work to address homelessness. They said we're seeing student homelessness. I said we see that in the United States, too. They were surprised to hear that, and they felt comforted in a strange way by knowing that. They thought it was a phenomenon that was unique to their community. And so I was able to share with them some of the ways that DePaul University is addressing student homelessness and shared some additional resources with them to help kind of spread those best practices around the world.

LINDA BLAKLEY: If we haven't already signed up to Sleep Out, what are some of the other things that we could do to support those who have signed up?

LYDIA STAZEN: Yes. There are lots of ways that people can engage with the issue of homelessness here at DePaul University. We are really focusing on the Big Sleep Out right now, so people can go to Big Sleep Out and sign up for the Chicago event. They can create an individual registration and fundraise, or they can create a team registration and fundraise. If you're not able to sleep out that night, you can go to that page and find someone who is sleeping out. I'll be sleeping out. I set my own personal goal of raising $1,000. I've had $25 donated so far. You can go search for my page and donate or anyone else who is sleeping out as well.

DR. GABRIEL ESTEBAN: I would also like to echo what Lydia said and challenge and ask our community to be part of the world's biggest sleep out. Jo and I plan to be at the Sleep Out and we plan to sleep, unless something happens between now and then and we're out of town for some strange reason. We hope to and plan to be at the Sleep Out. I ask that everyone participate. I want us to beat New York, actually, in terms of participation.

LYDIA STAZEN: I'm so glad you'll be sleeping out with us if it works in your schedule.

Two things that I'm really excited about for this Sleep Out is, one, IGH has signed up to be the legacy partner for all Sleep Out cities. We know that ending homelessness takes more than a one-time event. And so the morning after the Sleep Out, our staff at IGH is going to be calling all the Sleep Out cities to see if they want to turn that energy and momentum from the event into long-term, meaningful strategies to end homelessness. That's the work IGH does in the world already in 13 cities around the world, so we're going to be extending those services to all the Sleep Out cities. Also, I'm really pleased with how the planning committee has structured the program for the event that night. It was really important to us to center the experiences of people who have been homeless, and so we will have someone from Lincoln Park Community Services who was previously homeless but has come through that challenge and is now stable. He'll be there to play some keyboard music and to share his story of homelessness. We're going to have some testimonials from students who have been served by the Dax Houses there to share their stories. We are also working with an organization called Trifecta Dance Collective. Their mission is to tell the story of marginalized and oppressed people through dance and movement, so they have done interviews with people who have been homeless and created an original piece that they'll be debuting that night on stage.

LINDA BLAKLEY: The Windy City can be really windy. What happens if we face weather conditions that will make it unsafe to sleep outside?

LYDIA STAZEN: Yeah. Safety of participants is the number one priority, and so the planning committee is going to be monitoring weather conditions really closely for precipitation, windchill factor, all of those things. If it seems like it will be unsafe to sleep out, we'll be doing the program indoors at the Student Center.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Well, Lydia and Dr. Esteban, thank you for helping me to bring attention to this cause and the important work being done by IGH. Any of our listeners who would like to join a Sleep Out on December 7th can visit www.bigsleepout.com and search for the list of event cities. We'd love for you to join our group in Chicago on DePaul's Quad.

I'm Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to this episode of DePaul Download presented by DePaul's Division of University Marketing and Communications.