Sleep Out Reflections

On the night of October 25, 2012, I participated in an event at the UNH Manchester campus known as a “sleep out.” This was organized by my community service and leadership class, and was brought about to raise awareness of homelessness. This event included sleeping in the grass in Arms Park, across from the Merrimack River.
When I slept outside, I had only a sleeping bag, as well as my backpack, which I used as a pillow. I also had my fleece lined sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers. I slept atop a tarp provided by one of my fellow classmates, and used a winter hat on top of my backpack for extra warmth, also provided by a fellow classmate.
My honest thoughts are as follows. First, the cold; I was surprised at just how chilly I felt that night. I had been camping during the summer; where the temperatures would be considerably low during the night, but never outside of a tent like I did during the sleep out. It was also very wet, my sleeping bag became damp throughout the night, and the moisture and cold together brought me discomfort. I found myself tossing and turning, getting an estimated three to four hours of sleep.
Despite my discomfort and lack of quality sleep, I am very glad that I participated in the event. It really opened my eyes to just how lucky I am to have a warm bed to sleep in every night. And while I had some slight luxuries, and the company of others, I began to understand how awful it must be to have to sleep in the cold, wet, and even snowy weather. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have no choice but to sleep outside, even in the dead of winter.
Overall, I believe that I have gained a new outlook on what it means to have a home to stay each and every night, and how truly fortunate I am to have to choose to sleep outside, rather than have to wish to rest in a warm home at night, the way it is for so many individuals.
–Justin

Well, when I woke up I was one of the last ones to wake up, and I guess physically I felt better than I thought I would. I got a good night’s sleep, but I’m sure it was because I had the sleeping bag, blanket, AND a cozy hat and sweatshirt. But, emotionally, I felt like it would suck to then get up, pack everything up, and face another day of life without a shower. That day my belt broke and it was just trouble and after I had woken up I felt tired and just all around crappy, and I thought that a homeless person would have to do this every day until they hopefully got back on their feet.
My intended major is CIS, and I see myself as a very bright Computer Technician. But, when I think about how I could become a leader and hopefully help hunger and homelessness, I think that my job really doesn’t have many leader parts in it, unless I own my own business. If I owned my own business, I would most likely donate to a food kitchen or some other organizations to help the needy.  But I will differently be more careful with decisions regarding my job, and make sure that I don’t lose my job and force my family into a life of hunger and a life of not knowing where the next bed will be located, if there even will be a bed.
I would definitely recommend a sleep out next fall, but maybe introduce it earlier so that more people would show up, and have more activities planned. This was a great learning source for me, and it should continue to be a good source for many other people.
–Russ

When I first woke up, I forgot where I was.  I had woken up a bunch of times in the night, but was really aware of where I was and why I was there.  I thought about the people who were doing the same thing the same night, but who wouldn’t be able to wake up in the morning and have a house to go back to like I did.  Before we all actually went to bed, I wasn’t as conscious of my surroundings.  I was more excited about the fact that almost the entire class donated their time to be there and stayed most or all of the night.  I was more proud of the fact that our entire class was there together than just myself staying there.  When I woke up, I was so happy to be surrounded by people like me, who were willing to give up their own comfort for a good cause.
I currently work as a Pharmacy Technician at a community pharmacy.  I am going to school so I will someday be a Pharmacist.  So far in my experience of working in a pharmacy, I have learned that everyone needs medication.  Even people who don’t sleep in a bed or warm place every night.  Those who sleep in shelters or on the streets may have governmental help to pay for the necessary medical attention they need.  By acquiring a basic understanding of what they probably go through every night by sleeping out, I will be able to apply more understanding and sympathy for them and not question their appearance or not pass judgment if they are using governmental assistance.  I would hope that as a leadership model in my place of work, my colleagues will follow in my footsteps and acquire a similar understanding by learning about my experience and maybe create an experience of their own.
I absolutely recommend a sleep out next fall.  Obviously, planning it with more notice would be my top recommendation.  I also think that there should be more rules and restrictions for those participating.  I know I used my cell phone and my ipod several times in the night.  Someone who is actually homeless wouldn’t have those kinds of luxuries.  In order to have the full understanding and experience, there should be little to no electronics use and a limited amount of warm or substantial food even.  I think that the whole point of the sleep out shouldn’t be literally sleeping outside in the cold.; but actually having to live a night without the bells and whistles of technology.
–Lauren

When I first awoke after the night of the sleep out I felt exhausted. I was so tired due to the lack of sleep, comfort, and chilly temperatures. My body was crinkled in all sorts of different ways and I felt weak. All I wished to do was go home, curl up in my bed with my cat and dog, and enjoy the comfort of having a stove to keep me warm. Yes it was tough, exhausting, and a little stressful, but this is exactly why I participated in the sleep out. I was scared to sleep outside in an unfamiliar place away from my home. This is also the reason I am so proud to be able to say I slept out for homelessness. While feeling tired and cold waking up, I felt empowered. I honestly was unsure if I would make it the whole night. When I woke up from sleeping outside, the first thing I thought of in my head was, “I did it”. This sleep out was worth every second we spent outside. I learned more about homelessness, and was also somewhat able to get a feel of what homeless people must struggle through each night. Yes homeless people do not all have tents, do not have the privileges of using a bathroom, but we were still the ones out there doing something about this issue.
Being a biology major in hopes of moving on to become a Physician’s Assistant I will keep this experience with me forever. As I move on into the future I hope to keep community service as a part of my life. I have always dreamed of going to third world countries to help those in poverty. I wish to go and assist those people, especially kids, through giving out medicine, shots to protect against diseases, and providing meals. This sleep out has taught me that I can narrow my focuses on my own country, even my own community because poverty does not only exist in third world countries, but right in the city in which I live. I know that it sounds corny and unoriginal, but I truly do want to change the world even if that means helping one person at a time. I do not believe anyone should have to live in poverty, be homeless, or go hungry. I also realize that it is nearly impossible to rid the world of these things, but even helping one person is a step in the right direction.
I would absolutely recommend a sleep out for future classes. I think that this event really hit home not just for the kids who participated, but for the school and people in the community. As I said before, it was empowering. This event changed the way I view the entire project we are putting together. We have the opportunity to provide homeless people with warm clothing for the winter. We slept outside on a chilly October’s night and all of us had layer upon layer of clothing as well as multiple blankets. I cannot even put in words what it must be like to sleep outside on a freezing January night with less than what we were fortunate to have. For these reasons, I believe students need to continue this event. My only criticism would be to have more planning time in years to come. This was really a spur of the moment decision for us and it was still wonderful. However, if we were to have another week’s notice for planning we could have raised more money for surrounding shelters, and could have raised more awareness on homelessness. I am proud to say that I participated in the sleep out and feel that it is one of the most rewarding things I have done as a student in the community. For this reason this event needs to be continued because it will only get bigger and generate more awareness about homelessness and hunger.
–Emily

When I first woke up in the morning after the SleepOut, I was incredibly uncomfortable. My toes were so cold that my whole body felt numb. I didn’t sleep in a tent so my sleeping bag was soaked with morning dew, which made me feel disgusting. Talk about walking up on the wrong side of the bed. I can’t imagine how people can wake up like that and still be in a relatively good mood. Physically my body was all kinked because of sleeping on the ground. We were sleeping directly under the streetlights of the parking lot, so it was very difficult for me to fall asleep with the lights in my eyes. Then at about 1:30am as I was about to fall asleep, I heard a few skateboarders heading to the river with a bunch of friends. I felt incredibly vulnerable because I’m sure that they were able to see us all sleeping on the grass. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. Who knows what kind of people they were but in any sense, I felt defenseless lying zipped in my sleeping bag. I probably slept no more than an hour that night leaving me completely exhausted for my six hours of class that morning. As I drove home to shower after the SleepOut I couldn’t help but feel so guilty. I have a warm bed to sleep in every night and yet I don’t feel like I’m thankful for it until I force myself to jump out of my comfort zone like that. As I walked into my house that morning after I spent the night outside, I looked at my situation with completely different eyes. I realized that there’s no reason for me to complain about ANYTHING that I have simply because I’m much more fortunate than other people who have to sleep outside every single night.
After going through this experience, the SleepOut makes me want to help more often and give back to those who are less fortunate. I’m a Communication Arts major so there’s a good chance that I can find a career that helps make a difference in that field. This experience has taught me to keep more of an open mind. You never know what people have to suffer through in order to live a certain life. I can’t assume that everyone that I work with or go to school with all slept in a warm bed the night before, whether they seem to be pulled together or not. I’m in awe of those children and adults who are homeless but still have to go to work or school the next day and pretend like they live the way everyone else lives. Whether I work as a community service leader later in life or not, I know that I can’t ignore how I felt that night that I slept outside with nothing more than a sleeping bag. I want to be a part of an organization that makes a difference related to hunger and homelessness in the community that I live in, no matter if it’s in Southern NH or across the country.
I definitely suggest that there be another SleepOut next fall or even next spring. We already had the Union Leader and WMUR interested in what we did, so I imagine that the bigger the event gets, the more awareness we can raise. In the future, I suggest that there be more of a set schedule for the night. Maybe starts the night off with facts about how prevalent homelessness is in our area, share stories of situations we know of or have been a part of in regards to homelessness, maybe have guest speakers, more art projects or hands on community work to begin the evening.
Although sleeping outside was not what I signed up for when I registered for this class, I’m so glad I did it. I was able to experience something that millions of people have to no choice but to suffer through day after day. It’s an experience that I will always remember and it has changed how I view people who are in fact homeless. Participating in the SleepOut has made me want to be a part of making a difference in the community when it comes to hunger and homelessness.
–Daphne

Upon waking the morning of October 26th, I recall the rustling of feet all around me
mixed with chattering voices and the deep groan of the interstate. I did not realize how loud a city can be up close when at a distance, appears to be still. It was a far cry from my warm pillow- top bed. How I have taken for granted my privacy and security. I lay exposed in a wide open atmosphere, vulnerable to the elements and the frigid temperature. I was fortunate that the morning dew did not penetrate the barrier of my sleeping bag; I was relieved that it kept me warm all night. I sat up and noticed the others around me gathering their belongings and packing them away. The air was cold; I could see my breath. What if i did not have this sleeping bag? Would I have gotten any sleep that night? It does not get much worse than being cold and damp. There are many people who do not have the luxury of a sub-zero sleeping bag. How do they cope with the winter weather? The longer I sat out of my bag, the damp chill set in deeper. It was 6:30am, the sun was rising, and I needed to get home to a warm shower; the thought was comforting. I packed my car and headed home. Sadly, there are many who call this home.
Moving forward in my education to pursue a career in medicine, this experience fuels my desire to be a help to those who are impoverished. Not only are the homeless cold during the winter months, there are many who are physically ill. I want to see the homeless have an opportunity for health as well as a home.I would recommend a sleep-out next fall. Not only does it bring student together for an activity, it also allows students to gain a new perspective on life they may not have considered before. I felt that the loose planning and structure of the sleep-out was a nice touch. Sometimes having no agenda allows for deeper reflection. Yes, it can be boring having nothing to keep our minds busy, but, consider the homeless–they live in the moment. I noticed that many of us were hungry during the evening. Now that I think back, was that such a bad thing? The homeless are hungry. Could we next time make that sacrifice?
–Mike

After the sleep out, I remember thinking how I was still exhausted, but more importantly how I wished I could have participated. My idea was that there would be a large group of strangers down by the school. I would be getting there, just in time to take my medications, one of which puts me into a deep sleep. The idea of being unable to wake up at any given time or protect myself in a public place made me nervous, and superseded my desire to do the sleep out. After hearing about what a great time everyone had and seeing how everyone bonded in that one night made me feel a little left out and wondering why I couldn’t have seen the doctor at a later time so I could have confidently done the sleep out. I regret missing the sleep out.
I can’t say I know how the experience is or how it will reflect my thoughts on homelessness. However, my lack of participation showed me that homeless people don’t have the choice to stay at home if they don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable to the public under any condition. If anything, I am humbled by that. It has become an important consideration of mine to think of others when I am living a “life of luxury”. I was telling my boyfriend that if I can earn enough money as a chemical engineer, I would love to open a Comfortable Café near or next to my home. I want it to be a comfortable place for people to go when they have nowhere else. They can get out of bed and make coffee, and treat it just as if it were their own house. Other than that dream of mine, I would love to say I will go out and volunteer often and do so much to end homelessness and other means of poor circumstance. I would really like to be productive in that way. Even though I say that, I’m afraid I won’t actually do it, and feel worse about claiming I will do so much and then not doing it.
I think the sleep out is an important event, and should be done more than once a year. But I have no recommendations because I wasn’t there. The result of everyone’s behavior afterward was really interesting and touching though. It’s a great way to bring people together that have a common interest in making the lives of others recognized, and hopefully, in the long run, better.
–Meredith

Friday morning at 5:30am, I was awoken by the sun slowly beginning to creep its way into the dark sky. I didn’t quite know how to feel. Initially I thought to myself “where am I?” It then clicked into my brain as I felt the numbness of my nose and the discomfort of my back that I had successfully slept outside. For the most part my entire body was warm due to the layers and layers of clothing I had put on the night before. My head was warm because of the furry hat I was able to bring with me. But I can’t imagine having to do that every night. It dawned on me that people who do this because of need and not by choice have a great deal of challenges to face every night.
Not only was I privileged enough to have a tent, a sleeping bag, a pillow, and 2 blankets, but I was also surrounded by friends and guarded by security as well. What about those that cant attain the gear or security that I had to endure the cold night? The sleep out really opened my eyes to a world that I sadly didn’t know really existed. Okay lets be real for a second. Of course I knew that homeless people did exist in this world and that they slept outside. However, one never really knows what they go through without experiencing it for themselves. When I opened the door to my apartment that morning and walked inside to the warm fully furnished space, a wave of guilt washed over me. I am extremely blessed to have all that I do and to be able to sleep in a bed with a roof over my head every night.
My major here at UNHM is biology and I have high hopes of going to pharmacy school after this. I currently work in a pharmacy right now and have been exposed to many things. Working in the health profession you see a lot.  It pains me to say that on more than one occasion there have been homeless people that have walked into my store and I yes I have judged them in my head.  After doing the sleep out I have a new found appreciation and respect for the less fortunate. It is hard to admit that I had preconceived notions about the homeless, but they are just as human as we are.
In my opinion the sleep out should be done every year! I not only had a blast but it was also a rude awakening to how blessed I really am. The sleep out really reinforced the work we are doing with Warmth from the Millyard and really made me want to do more. I feel like sometimes we are wrapped up in our busy lives and don’t stop to realize what is happening right in front of us. All in all, it was a great experience and it really opened my eyes to see what is going on in our community and has made me want to make a change.
–Kestlie

When I woke up I was a little cold just sleeping inside, so I wondered how everyone else felt sleeping in the cold. Not great, I imagine. Other thoughts: I hope any homeless people on the east coast can make their way to shelter during the upcoming hurricane.
I’m a Computer Information Systems major. I took away from this experience that homelessness is a problem that really needs to be solved, and my major could facilitate this by creating systems that make the process of getting food, services, and shelter easier for people to get. We could also create and manipulate databases that would store information pertaining to the problem of homelessness, which could be used to better plan how the issue will be addressed.
I’d recommend doing this again. I think it was a good idea, and it definitely got our program a lot of attention in addition to raising awareness. No real problems to address or suggestions to make.
–Melissa

I woke up at 4 am the morning of the sleep-out. I was so cold I could not seem to get warm no matter what I did. I could not fall back to sleep either I end up just laying there cold and I felt helpless to my own body. After a while when I was able to get my mind off how cold I was I just though how lucky I was and I felt guilty for thinking about my warm bed and the shower I was going to be able to take in a few hours. But mainly my mind kept going back to fact that I was cold and helpless. I had spent the night in a tent with a sleeping bag and two blackest and a pillow. I had my warmest cloths but still I was cold. And I know I say it  a lot but that’s all I was at that moment I was cold. I had a lot more recourse then most people that are homeless, so I could only image how cold they must have been.
My major in school is Politics and Society, this experience has shaped my view a lot about what homeless   looks like and feels like. And the reality is that anyone could become homeless over night. It has shaped me so that I have both pity and respect for those people that really are homeless. What they have to do every night no one should have to do. I will remember this moment for a long time and keep with the lessons that I learned about homelessness and people that are struggling to make needs meet.
–Stephanie

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