No matter where you go, there is no “home.” You travel all day around a city or town, possibly asking for money or help, possibly collecting some bottles and cans, possibly just trying to get by. The hunger in your stomach gnaws; if you’re lucky, you get some leftovers from a concerned stranger. Night falls, as does the temperature. It’s dark, and you find some place safe.
Well, “safe.” There’s no true safe place. You sleep with your backpack on your back so no one steals it. You’re trying to stay secluded, away from the authorities, away from others who could hurt you. When the sun rises, there’s no relief; you’re back on your feet, repeating the cycle.
For nearly 3,000 Connecticut residents, that dismal scene likely represented – or represents – a day in their lives. Homelessness in Connecticut remains a scourge for far too many, holding people in crisis back from repairing their lives, a cycle that repeats and becomes more difficult to break the longer it’s experienced.
For many of us, homelessness is more of a concept or an idea than anything we’ve experienced in our lives. Anyone who has had the privilege of a consistent roof over their head will never know the sheer challenges faced by the unhoused, and yet this population is one expected to increase in future years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our state is a leader, nationally and globally, in fighting homelessness. For years, Connecticut has set a standard to supply stable housing as a primary goal for many individuals in crisis. But, at least to me, a remaining issue with homelessness in society is not the fault of the homeless, but the housed. When we are used to being able to afford housing, food, heat and electricity, it becomes harder to imagine the experience of going without – and, I imagine, that contributes to many individuals’ disdain and disrespect for folks going through tougher times than them.
Then again, walking a mile in one’s shoes does sometimes add needed perspective.
On November 5, in South Windsor’s Nevers Park, I will co-host, alongside the anti-homelessness charity Hartford Bags of Love, the fourth-annual Sleep Out to End Homelessness.
This overnight event, which will take place rain or shine, cold or heat, is meant to provide people with the experience of simulating homelessness, even for one night. My hope is that people leave this overnight, sometimes-freezing event with an increased sense of empathy for those struggling with housing insecurity. It can be a serious challenge for those in crisis, and it cannot be one we collectively shrug our shoulders at, as it is a societal issue as much as it is an individual one.
I say this because homelessness is not an issue that impacts everyone equally. More than 35,000 veterans, people who sacrificed in the name of our country, are homeless today. Nearly 35,000 unaccompanied youth, whether they have run away or potentially been thrown out, are homeless as well. Black and Hispanic populations experience homelessness more often than their white counterparts. And it’s not as simple as “getting a job.” Family issues, financial issues, employment issues, discrimination, mental illness, physical illness or diagnosis, and domestic violence can all contribute to an individual experiencing housing insecurity.
It is under these circumstances that I hope the Sleep Out to End Homelessness finds even more success than in past years. Each year, more people attend, leaving more people with the experience of homelessness, even for one night. It’s my hope that their experiences will help them join efforts to end this terrible condition for good.
Dr. Saud Anwar, a Democrat from South Windsor, represents Connecticut’s 3rd Senate District — East Hartford, East Windsor, South Windsor and part of Ellington.