Remembering to Be Thankful

The Man from Anacostia

One of my favorite activities is to attend public events where I have the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. Recently I had the pleasure of attending TheARC’s “After Dark” fundraiser, where I had the opportunity to sit at the table sponsored by Covenant House. I had heard of Covenant House because they are in the same building as the TheARC on Mississippi Ave SE, but I never really understood their mission and the work they perform in the community.

While engaging in conversations with Covenant House staff I learned about their mission to end youth homelessness. At the end of the night they invited me to participate in their annual Sleep Out event. They host the event every fall to enhance awareness about youth homelessness in the city and to raise money for assisting youth in finding permanent housing. Corporate executives and community activists from around the city agree to sleep outside for one night in an effort to gain first-hand experience of what it is like to be homeless, while raising money for the cause. Initially I was hesitant to participate but after some convincing I agreed to support a worthy cause.

When I arrived at the Covenant House I really did not know what to expect. I figured it would be a long night so I dressed in sweat pants and a hoodie. The evening began with a candlelight vigil to stand in solidarity with disconnected youth in our city. After the vigil we all participated in roundtable discussions with some of the youth who have participated in programs. Hearing their stories about broken homes, domestic abuse, and other struggles in life reminded me that I take so much for granted and I have a lot to be thankful for. It reminded me there are residents in our city living hard lives, and trying to get through the day can be a challenge. Thinking about what the future holds beyond today day is difficult for some.

Around 11:00 p.m. the facilitators announced it was time to grab our sleeping bags and find a spot in the parking lot or walkway. Some of us grabbed a spot on the sidewalk and some in the grass, but looking at the faces of the participants I could see we were all a little nervous. The fact that the weather forecast called for temps in the low 40s left none of us too excited.

I found a spot on the walkway. I laid a cardboard box down first to try and soften the ground and then a black trashbag on top to keep out any moisture. I then crawled into my sleeping bag. I hadn’t thought about bringing my own pillow. I used my shoe as a pillow until a fellow participant felt sorry for me because I looked so uncomfortable and loaned me an empty book bag to use as a pillow.

I spent most of the night trying to get comfortable, and I think I got about an hour’s light sleep. When I finally found an ideal spot, I had to get up to use the restroom. When I got back, I went through the process again of tossing and turning in my sleeping bag to find a spot where I felt comfortable enough to close my eyes.

While lying there I thought to myself, I will never look at homelessness the same way ever again. I felt especially bad to know that we have youth who are living in these types of conditions. My one-night experience was temporary. I was safe because I was sleeping next to the facility and around thirty other executives and community organizers. I could go to the restroom in the facility and grab bottled water if I was thirsty. When the morning came I was free to go home, take a hot shower, and get another hour of sleep in my warm bed before going to work.

I could not imagine being homeless, having to go through the process of finding somewhere safe to sleep every night. Getting up in the morning, not having a job to go to. I am so thankful for my many blessings in life. I am even thankful for the disappointments because I was reminded that night that when things are not going my way, it sure could be a lot worse.

What are you thankful for this holiday season? I am thankful for great parents and awesome family support that continues to encourage me to be a better version of myself.

Charles E. Wilson is a former candidate for the Ward 8 City Council seat. He is the advisory neighborhood commissioner for 8A 05 as well as president and co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association and River East Emerging Leaders. You can read his blog, The Art of WARd8, at www.

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