For one night this December, people around the world will give up their beds to help put an end to global homelessness. The World’s Big Sleep Out aims to raise $50 million and have 50,000 people sleep outdoors across 50 international cities. DePaul's Institute of Global Homelessness will host Chicago’s main event on its Lincoln Park Campus on Dec. 7.
“We are a small, interconnected world. Chicago’s Big Sleep Out will show solidarity and raise support for people experiencing homelessness in Chicago and worldwide,” says Lydia Stazen, director of the Institute of Global Homelessness.
Providing leadership in addressing issues of social justice, including ending street homelessness, is part of DePaul University’s Grounded in Mission strategic plan.
“The Big Sleep Out is an example of our Catholic, Vincentian and urban mission in action,” says Georgianna Torres Reyes, associate vice president for student engagement in the Division of Mission and Ministry at DePaul.
Students, faculty and staff involved in the Big Sleep Out will learn more about the issues of homelessness, dignity, accompaniment and transformative education.
“It will be an opportunity to respond to the Vincentian question, ‘What must be done?’ We have the ability to shift the narrative and create real change in Chicago,” Torres Reyes adds.
Why sleep out?
Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of Social Bite, is leading the World’s Big Sleep Out movement. Social Bite started as a small sandwich shop in Edinburgh, Scotland, that started offering employment and free food to homeless people. Over the past few years, Littlejohn created momentum with Sleep Outs raising more than $10 million to address homelessness. The World’s Big Sleep Out takes that to the next level.
“By sleeping out for one night on Dec. 7, we can simultaneously express our compassion for homeless people who have no other choice and raise lifesaving funds to make a difference. We can also send a message to the world’s political leaders that urgent action is required to address the human suffering that we each witness on our streets every day,” Littlejohn says.
Creating a movement, not just a moment, is important to the organizers at DePaul, Stazen says. The Chicago Big Sleep Out will include a live program of music, dance, poetry and testimony that centers on the experiences of people who have been homeless.
“We want everyone who sleeps out to think of this as the beginning and to leave the next morning with ideas for ways to stay engaged,” Stazen adds.
In Chicago, musician Frank Turner will playing an acoustic set of his punk-folk rock hits for those sleeping out at DePaul. The Trifecta Dance Collective will tell the story of homelessness through movement, and a graduate of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, will perform on the keyboard and share his story. There will also be events leading up to the Big Sleep Out, including a performance and panel at The Theatre School in October
Participants will see special video messages from local and international celebrities. Will Smith and Dame Helen Mirren will participate in the global event by telling a bedtime story in Times Square in New York and Trafalgar Square in London, respectively.
Seasoned Chicagoans might wonder what will happen if it’s really cold or snowy that night in Chicago.
“While a little discomfort is part of the experience of solidarity, safety is the top priority,” says Stazen. “If the weather is dangerous in Chicago for sleeping out, there will be an indoor alternative.”
Those who would rather not sleep out can also get involved by donating or volunteering, and these opportunities will be announced closer to the event.
Benefits far and wide
Proceeds from the World’s Big Sleep Out will be split between international and local organizations working to end homelessness. The Institute of Global Homelessness is one of the international beneficiaries, along with UNICEF and the Malala Fund.
There are two local charities benefitting from the Chicago Big Sleep Out. All Chicago Making Homelessness History leads more than 75 partner organizations in a city-wide effort to prevent and end homelessness. All Chicago serves partners and their clients through emergency financial assistance, community partnerships, data analytics, training and technical assistance and research. Through this collective effort, homelessness in Chicago has decreased by 20 percent since 2015.
Depaul USA supports people experiencing homelessness to ensure that everyone has a place to call home and a stake in the community. In Chicago, Depaul USA’s Dax House provides housing, case management, counseling and financial assistance with books, food and school expenses for homeless and housing insecure university students, including students at DePaul.