A Night on the Street
Reflections on the Covenant House Sleep Out
Written by Sophie Trist
This year, I got the opportunity to participate in the seventh annual Sleep Out, a fundraiser to benefit Covenant House, an organization that serves homeless and at-risk youth. I partnered with my best friend, Alex Christian Lucas, to take on the Sleep Out. Together, the two of us managed to raise $12,000 for the homeless youth of New Orleans! The outpouring of kindness and generosity was truly mind-blowing. Fellow college students would hand us $5 and apologize for not being able to give more. We assured everyone that no donation was too small. My partner and I broke two records this year: we had the most donors of any sleeper, and we were the youngest people ever to participate in the on-site sleep out.
One of our donors wrote on our page, “When you stand on the margins, the margins disappear,” a quote attributed to Jesuit priest Father Gregory Boyle, who works with gang members in L.A. During our night on the street, I felt the lines between “us” and the young women and men of Covenant House first blur, then vanish altogether. The Sleep Out isn’t about pretending to be homeless; it is an act of solidarity, of kinship.
Upon arrival, Alex and I got the opportunity to tour Covenant House’s campus. We saw the Crisis Center, where kids are cared for when they first come off the street and learned of Rights of Passage, the transitional living program in which residents receive holistic, individualized support. The beauty of Covenant House is that they don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. They understand that each kid has unique and complex problems, and they see the inherent goodness and value in each young man and woman.
After the tour, the sleepers broke into groups of ten, where we got the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with a couple of residents and a staff member. I was blown away by the courage and resilience of the two young men who shared their stories with us. I didn’t think it was possible for my love and respect for the Covenant House kids to grow, but it did, by leaps and bounds. As a research intern for Covenant House, I read statistics all the time. But words and numbers pale in comparison to hearing the voices of people my age who have endured hardships beyond my understanding.
It was nearly one in the morning by the time Alex and I arranged our cardboard boxes on the sidewalk, crawled into our sleeping bags, and attempted to sleep. One of the pillars of a Jesuit education is to find God in all things. Lying on that cold cement, listening to cars rumble past, I truly felt the presence of God. I tried to imagine what sleeping out in the cold would be like without a clean, unused box, a nice sleeping bag, and a warm jacket. I tried to imagine how terrifying it would be to sleep on a street that wasn’t cordoned off and patrolled by four police officers, not knowing if the people walking past were friends or foes. Like my small-group conversation with the two young men earlier in the night, sleeping out deepened my emotional and spiritual kinship with youth who suffer homelessness.
On the way back to school the next morning, Alex said, “Sophie, that was life-changing.” Life-changing is the only word that describes my Sleep Out experience, and it feels inadequate. During this one night of encounter and unity, I felt like judges, civic leaders, college students, and homeless young people became one family. We slept out to say, “We must do better by these young men and women.” We slept out because we refuse to abandon our brothers and sisters. We slept out because there is beauty and dignity in each person, no matter what they have done or experienced. We slept out because we are all God’s children, called to live together in perfect love.
Sophie Trist has been totally blind since birth, but she’s never let that stop her from doing what needs getting done using alternative techniques like braille and a talking computer.
Sophie is a junior in the Honors program at Loyola University New Orleans, where she’s majoring in English with a concentration in writing. Her dream is to obtain an MFA in creative writing and become an English professor, as well as write novels of her own. Her other hobbies include listening to country music, hanging out with family and friends, playing with her three dogs, and reading every book she can get her hands on.
Sophie was deeply impacted by the documentary “Shelter,” and knew she wanted to work at Covenant House the moment she watched it. Working with the research and grant writing team has engaged two of Sophie’s greatest passions: learning new ways and styles of writing, and working for social justice in her community.