Marconi Foundation for Kids Sleeps Out with Covenant House California to help raise awareness and funding for homeless youth. #TeamMFK (Marconi Foundation for Kids) joined the Cov’s efforts and slept out on the streets in Hollywood on November 17th, and our Marketing Coordinator Shannon and CEO Bo Marconi would like to share their experience with you.
‘Tis the season for being grateful and we could always use a helpful reminder. Here was our reality wake up call.
A cardboard box, asphalt and one sleeping bag. It’s sunny California but the temperatures have dropped into the high 40s low 50s, and the cold nips sharper when there’s no structure to capture any form of heat. Inner city L.A. hasn’t gotten the memo the sun has set and it’s time for bed, the night is young and 6,000 homeless youth are starting their search for a safe place to spend the night throughout Los Angeles County, most hunkering down in the worst parts of town hoping to make it through the night with no surprises. I was homeless for one night and was terrible at it.
On November 17th I slept out on the streets of Hollywood with my boss, Marconi Foundation for Kids CEO, Bo Marconi. We accepted the challenge to Sleep Out with Covenant House California to raise awareness and donations for programs at the Cov which benefit homeless youth. Nearly 2 million kids will face homelessness this year, 50 percent of foster kids who age out of the system will become homeless within 6 months, and 1 out of 3 teens will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the streets.
Statistics speak volumes; it helps put in perspective the quantitative need for resources to people who don’t come in direct contact with a certain cause. #TeamMFK based our campaign off them and used them to encourage our supporters to donate, but after one night on the streets these percentages came to life with a whole new meaning.
That morning I dressed for work with the Sleep Out in mind, as did Bo. She opted for loose pants, long sleeves, a pullover and a Marconi Racing jacket with plenty of cush. I wanted the least amount of buttons possible and opted for thick leggings, a long pullover flannel and my NFL sideline jacket for extra warmth. I grabbed a zip-up jacket on my way out for possible pillow use, and as I loaded up the car with my luggage for the night, the first wave of privilege slapped me in the face.
I spent 15 minutes preparing for my night out on the streets, worrying about how to make the experience more comfortable. The kids surviving the streets every night don’t have this luxury. I drove to work wondering how many more times a jolt of reality would kick me in the side throughout the next 24-hours.
Covenant House has over 20 chapters nationally and internationally, each tend to the greatest need within that city. When Covenant House opened its doors in Los Angeles the greatest need was to foster kids aging out of the system and methodically ending up homeless.
Covenant House is dedicated to serve all God’s children with absolute respect and unconditional love … to help suffering homeless youth … and to protect and safeguard all young people in need.
The organization strives every day to fulfill that founding mission. Staff welcomes the young people with open arms and loves them like one of their own. They provide numerous programs to aid in the growth of youth coming through the doors and actively cruise the streets at night in a Crisis Van, providing hot meals and a safe place to sleep to those in need.
Executive Director Bill Bedrossian gave an introductory speech to the crowd before Cov Alumni and current residents shared their stories. One group, led by the activities director, shared a special performance crafted by the kids, which you may view here.
As the evening began to wind down, Bill addressed the crowd once more asking if any of us would like to share what they learned tonight or what had struck us as shocking after talking to one of their kids. My feet didn’t move closer to the mic stand but I would like to share my own hard realization.
For a long while I was under the assumption a homeless person was homeless by choice or they did something to deserve it. When I was younger and lived close to New York City, it wasn’t uncommon to see someone on the streets panhandling every few blocks. The word bums or beggars got thrown around a lot and these choice words made them less human. It was easier to compartmentalize if I told myself “these people made bad choices and it landed them on the streets.”
I could not have been more wrong.
The night grew intimate during the “round table” portion, where kids sat with smaller groups and shared their story one on one. The young man at my table had been living on the streets for over 3 years, he just turned twenty. His father was an abusive drunk and his mother was an un-medicated paranoid schizophrenic. After moving from Japan to Virginia and then to Florida, his mother fled with him to California after Dad skipped town. Their house burned to the ground after their neighbor’s gas leak caught fire and they became homeless. After three months, she left him and checked into a mental institution.
He was barely 17 years old when he had to fend for himself on the streets of Los Angeles.
Story after story from Cov kids gave me a sharp jab to the ribs. None of them had a choice in the matter. Their misfortune was being born into a family who couldn’t care for them and didn’t have the luxury of a caring and loving adult to guide them to success.
As the clock struck midnight, Bo and I crawled into our sleeping bags after claiming a spot on the pavement. A vacant lot filled with black trash bags, Styrofoam cups and random articles of clothing littered the patch of grass a few steps away from our home for the night.
Cars whizzed over the freeway ramps and brakes screeched at red lights on the main road, only a few steps from our beds. People were still wandering the streets and the city of Los Angeles hadn’t gotten the memo, it was time for bed.
Personally, I slept for a little over an hour before waking up in the middle of the night freezing. My legs and toes were a tad numb and my left ear felt wind burned. I scrunched into a smaller ball and shimmied deeper into my sleeping bag for warmth and tried to find another position that might allow me a few more moments of sleep.
Bo wasn’t able to doze off for more than a few minutes every hour. She counted the number of helicopters that night (12 in case you were wondering), listened to the patterns of traffic overhead and shared this Facebook status at around 3 a.m.
Throughout the night we paid close attention to footsteps, slowing cars and street noise. I found myself holding my breath whenever the sound got a little too close for comfort and realized how vulnerable it is to sleep on the ground with people walking around you. My eyes would snap open at slightest hint of a shoe scuffing close to my ear.
Around 5 a.m. all the sleepers began to stir and we happily jumped out of our sleeping bags in preparation to get on the road early to beat infamous Los Angeles traffic. We did it, it’s done, time to get the show on the road! We jumped in the car and easily slid back into our regular routine.
It wasn’t until Bo and I went our separate ways to make our way back to the comforts of our own homes, did the impact of the night take effect. As Bo carefully maneuvered her way up the dirt road and through the hills that led her home each day, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude washed over her. She put the car in park and took a moment to enjoy the sun beaming through the trees. How lucky am I?
My emotions plowed straight into me as soon as I parked my car out front of my apartment. I sat in my car for a few moments to fully appreciate the experience I had with Covenant House California and the Sleep Out. It took coming home to a shower and bed to fully appreciate what the night before was about and how fortunate I am to have a home.
I took the hottest shower of my life that morning. One night on the streets, and I was chilled to the bone.
But let’s keep this in perspective. Bo and I slept with a group of about 80-100 people, who we assumed wouldn’t be stealing our shoes at night or trying to rob us while we slept. We had a bathroom within walking distance and a sleeping bag to help keep us warm, as well as multiple layers of clothing. We by no means roughed it, we only got a taste and that small taste gave us a whole new appreciation for the little things in life.
If you would like more information about how to donate or volunteer, please check out Covenant House California’s website. They are making a difference every day and we were lucky enough to be a part of it and see it.
The Marconi Automotive Museum is a class 501 ©(3) nonprofit located in the heart of Orange County. A portion of the net proceeds from booked events goes to various at-risk children charities throughout Southern California. We are open to the public for museum visitors Monday through Friday 9:00am – 4:30pm, double check our event calendar before visiting.
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