Interview by Kevin E. Cleary
Cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, tents, and initially eager children adorned the facades of two Lakewood Churches in late January. Some of the children and organizers were spending their third year out in the cold to raise awareness of and donations for homeless people in Cleveland. Their first sleep out in 2005 coincided with one of the coldest nights in Cleveland history.
Last year, Lakewood Congregational Church distributed copies of The Homeless Grapevine newspapers while conducting their sleep out. This year, a new church, Pilgrim St. Paul, also in Lakewood, joined the fray. The Homeless Grapevine checked back with one of the Sleep outs main organizers, Bret Callentine in February to see how the children fared this year.
Homeless Grapevine: Lakewood Congregational Church has been doing the homeless sleep out for 3 years now. How did it get stated?
Bret Callentine: The kids at LCC attended a national youth event where they met kids from an eastside church that did the same type of event (although theirs was done in July). Always looking for a new challenge, they decided to give it a try here in Cleveland.
GV: How did this year’s sleep out compare to past years?
Callentine: I though this years event went very well. However, that said, it was much different working with the new church and a comparable younger group. As for the conditions, the snow this year was a welcomed sight as opposed to the rain we had last year. Cold is somewhat easier to deal with than wet.
GV: How many kids participated this year? Callentine: We had about 12 kids at Pilgrim St. Paul and from what I heard, Lakewood Congregational Church had about two dozen.
GV: How much money did you raise/ items did you collect? Where were they sent?
Callentine: All told both church raised close to $3,000 (although donations are still coming in) I don’t have a final word from LCC but all of the money collected at PSP will be given to the group “covering Cleveland.”
GV: Did anyone’s dwelling make it through the night?
Callentine: Some held up better than others, but most all them suffered from some sort of structural failure. However, the kids quickly learned that regardless of what happened, they were better off just laying there rather than getting up and trying to fix it. In some cases, they were probably better off with the boxes collapsed on top of them.
GV: a second site (Pilgrim St. Paul) conducted a sleep out this year. How did the kids there do?
Callentine: As I suggested, PSP is where I was for the night. The kids did pretty good, however, they had a lot of learning on the fly. No matter how much you think you are prepared, unless you have done something like this before, it will definitely catch you off guard.
GV: You’ve mentioned the idea of recruiting all the churches in Lakewood to host sleep outs. Do you think they all will be conducted on the same night?
Callentine: The goal when this was started was to eventually have churches all over Northeast Ohio participate on the same night. Collecting money is a powerful thing, but opening the eyes of an entire city is what is needed to affect real change. And to that end, numbers definitely help. One group doing this is “a good idea”, two is “an interesting story”, but if dozens of groups participate, it becomes “a statement you can no longer ignore.”
GV: How cold did it get the night of sleep out?
Callentine: We don’t know. No one had a thermometer. However, that question reminds me of the one most popular from the kids that night… “Mr. Callentine, what time is it?” My only response was “What does it matter?” it doesn’t matter what the temperature was, only that it was less than comfortable.
GV: Did anyone get frostbite or sick afterwards?
Callentine: No frostbite to report, although we did end up sending a couple of the kids inside for precautionary measures. We were out there to make a point. However, the safety and security of the kids was always paramount.
GV: How did the community response seem?
Callentine: Response ranged from quiet curiosity to amazement. Although the most popular response we got from those passing by was a simple honk of the car horn. To which it quickly occurred to the kids, “that’s nice, but honking really doesn’t help anybody.”
GV: Are there any interesting stories from this year’s Sleep out that you’d like to share?
Callentine: In my opinion, the best part of the evening was the spontaneous arrival of several different people who just stopped by to support the kids and share their own individual stories of being homeless. I think it was critical to the kids starting to understand how wide spread this problem is, and that not everyone who ends up on the streets is there because of a mental illness or drug problem.
GV: Did you get media coverage from other outlets? If so, by what outlets?
Callentine: Most of the media was directed to go to LCC, so you might want to contact them as to the amount of coverage received, I do know that the Cleveland Plain Dealer did an article.
GV: Did any of the kids report an increased awareness of the struggle homeless people face after the event?
Callentine: Judging by the change in the expressions on their faces between the time they first stepped outside and the time when they were allowed to go inside, I’d say that they at least got a small glimpse of what it was like.