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‘Sleep Under the Stars will make its debut in Annapolis at Susan Campbell Park on Nov. 22, the same date people of all ages and backgrounds will be doing the same across the country as part of the ‘Sleep Out America’ campaign.
‘Sleep Under the Stars will make its debut in Annapolis at Susan Campbell Park on Nov. 22, the same date people of all ages and backgrounds will be doing the same across the country as part of the ‘Sleep Out America’ campaign. (Courtesy photo/Capital Gazette)

For years, Covenant House’s Sleep Out America campaign has served as a national cause, with several local grassroots initiatives, as an opportunity to offer solidarity and support to the homeless community. The action? Leave the warmth of your bed and the comfort of your home to sleep outside for one night. The message? You’re not alone.

According to the nonprofit’s website, 4.2 million young people experience homelessness each year, of which more than 5,000 are estimated will lose their lives to the streets.

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Sleep Out America will make its debut in Annapolis as Sleep Under the Stars at Susan Campbell Park on Nov. 22, the same date people of all ages and backgrounds will be doing the same across the country as part of the campaign. The idea to encourage Annapolitans to form part of this movement and stand with the city’s homeless community originates from the Annapolis Social League.

“When I was commuting into D.C. two years ago, I would pass a big sign that said ‘Sleep Out’ and I finally Googled it to learn what it was for,” said Jeremiah Batucan, co-founder of ASL. “After looking more into the program, this gave me a framework for how to create an event that has impact and reach.”

Over the last two years, ASL has been a part of Winter Relief at Bay Ridge Christian Church. And after a successful cornhole tournament at the Amps & Ales Festival over the summer to fundraise money for Nico’s Hope for Life Foundation, Batucan and his ASL partner Megan Bell were ready for more. Registering with Covenant House and Arundel House of Hope for the services they provide to the homeless, they were launched Sleep Under the Stars.

“With Annapolis serving as the ‘Sailing Capital of the World’, the phrase ‘a rising tide raises all ships’ cannot ring more true,” Batucan said. “This is only a small glimpse into what our homeless community is facing and not meant to recreate the true hardship of living on the street.

"We’ve been working with another group called Affordable Annapolis and we hope this steers more of our really smart and bright Annapolitans to helping us solve chronic poverty in our city.”

The Rev. Bret Hicks, the pastor at Bay Ridge Church, has worked extensively with the homeless community and echoed Batucan’s remarks. Hicks, who has participated in Winter Relief in previous years, said that experiencing first-hand what it’s like to sleep outside is a small step in the right direction.

“Sleeping outside on a cold night is very different from taking a walk on 45- to 50-degree weather,” Hicks said. “When you sleep outside all night long, it becomes increasingly unpleasant and with time, it becomes dehumanizing. Participating in this event is a great start to raise awareness, but it’s important we go beyond just one night and get the community involved.”

According to a survey by Anne Arundel County, 232 homeless people — sheltered, unsheltered or in transitional housing — have been served county-wide. Although the city does not track or take a census of the homeless population at the city level, it seeks to provide support through the Stanton Community Center and other shelters, particularly during extreme weather conditions.

Pam Biddlecomb, director of the Day Center and Winter Relief program at Arundel House of Hope, said one of the primary issues contributing to high rates of homelessness in Annapolis is affordable housing and low-paying jobs. “Most individuals who are homeless are working on minimum wage, which is not enough to pay for an apartment,” she said. “Many feel like they’re in a dark hole they can’t get out of and just want to find a path to move forward in their lives.”

Biddlecomb said Sleep Under the Stars is an act of solidarity that speaks louder than words. In talking to individuals who have faced hardship and have been left without a home, Biddlecomb pointed out that the most common sentiment is feeling like no one cares. “By going out and spending a night sleeping outside, it sends the message that someone notices them and cares about them,” she said. “We are called to help one another and no one should feel hopeless.”

Batucan hopes Sleep Under the Stars 2019 will be the first of many sleep outs and eventually outgrow the Susan Campbell Park. Registration will begin at 7 pm Nov. 22, when participants can begin to set up their sleeping area.

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