Gala? 5K? This Homeless Shelter Is Fundraising With a 'Sleep Out'

Tasha Henneman (left) and Nichelle Kitt hold a sign for a photo before tucking into their sleeping bags during Covenant House Oakland's Sleep Out. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

In a fenced-in parking lot in West Oakland, Nicole Hanke wrestles with a piece of cardboard that she's trying to fashion into a protective shelter. The forecast is for rain, and Hanke will be sleeping on concrete. Her bed will be cardboard and a sleeping bag.

While Hanke has a home and a steady job at Cisco in San Jose, she’s spending Friday night sleeping outside with over 30 other people, all of whom have been fundraising for the last few months for the nonprofit Covenant House. This organization helps homeless youth between 18 and 24 years old with free housing, food and job services.


Covenant House staff members estimate that there are roughly 3,500 homeless youth in the Bay Area. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homeless youth numbered over 45,000 in the United States in 2014. Covenant House staff say most residents lack a safety net. Many young people who stay there are former foster youth, identify as LGBT, or are immigrants who have come from Central America.

Kat (center), a current resident of the Covenant House, speaks about her struggles with housing insecurity to those attending the Sleep Out.
Kat (center), a current resident of the Covenant House, speaks about her struggles with housing insecurity to those attending the Sleep Out. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Connie Chung is sleeping out for a second year in a row. She says, "When you’re homeless, it’s not just the loss of your physical residence." Beyond that, "it’s the loss of a psychological sense of safety."

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Chung experienced periodic homelessness during her teens, until she found a stable home at the Covenant House in Los Angeles. There, she says, she started to heal.

"What really helped me was love. Sounds kind of corny, but I really believe every kid needs some adult who loves them insanely, unconditionally, irrationally, without limit. And I received that."

Those attending the Sleep Out made their beds with cardboard boxes, blankets and sleeping bags in the parking lot of covenant House in Oakland, California.
Those attending the Sleep Out made their beds with cardboard boxes, blankets and sleeping bags in the parking lot of Covenant House in Oakland. (Brittany Hosea-Small/KQED)

Covenant House hopes the Oakland Sleep Out -- which raised $87,444 -- and similar events in other cities heighten awareness about the many young people who are homeless.