Sympathy for the plight of the homeless can be abstract. The 24-hour SleepOut this weekend in Venice aims to put a face on the problem of homelessness. A coalition of groups, including Occupy Venice, will gather at Beyond Baroque to explain the hard and complicated facts of being on the street. And then, everyone who brings tents or sleeping bags will spend the night outside together.
Homeless advocate Peggy Kennedy says this is the second year for the event: “I think it makes people more sympathetic but what I think it did more than anything was created a solidarity between housed people and un-housed people. There’s this perception that people are homeless because somehow that’s their choice, but really that’s a very small percentage of people on the street. The services are so limited.”
Explaining what the reality of life is like for someone who has lost everything is a challenge, Kennedy says. She says we too easily criminalize the homeless, rather than work to find solutions to the problems that underlie homelessness. And studies have shown it’s far more expensive to incarcerate someone than it is to house them.
“People don’t understand. They think a high percentage of people on the streets are mentally ill. Well, if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time, you are ill,” she says.
Then there’s the constant fear. Kennedy says some homeless people will join the “sleep out” this weekend because there’s safety in numbers; for one night they’ll be able to rest, even if it is on the street, knowing they’re surrounded by people who won’t hurt or steal from them.