Sleeping on the Streets in Solidarity with the Homeless: New York City Relief and Liquid Church
At just about 2:00 a.m. Danielle and I realized our roof was leaking. We’d been battling the rain for the past two hours, huddled inside our cardboard shelter with a dusty tarp as our ceiling. It was 50 degrees and everything around us had slowly become wet as the rain seeped in – our blankets, our clothes.
A bit exhausted and definitely uncomfortable, we made the decision to dismantle our section of the cardboard city and head inside to the church atrium. Over 575 people had come to participate in Liquid Church’s Homeless Church event.
Participants were invited to sleep out for the night in solidarity with the homeless as a way of raising funds to support the homeless and to increase awareness of their needs.
By 5 a.m. only 12 brave souls battled the pouring rain outside. The rest of us had relocated to the concrete floors of the atrium… grateful for protection from the rain but just as uncomfortable in the well-lit, noisy, cold and hard floored atrium. Wed clothes and blankets, icy air conditioning and hard concrete floors meant little sleep for anyone – including both our Church lead Pastors and Juan Galloway, the President and CEO of New York City Relief, the organization Liquid Church had partnered with for the event.
The evening had started with an opening information ceremony and then the group build our cardboard city. Each participant was given one cardboard box, a large plastic garbage bag and access to duct tape. Most people had brought a simple blanket, pillow and warm shoes – simple luxuries many of the street homeless do not own.
The nervous excitement of the crowd as we built our array of homes for the night was palpable. By 7:00 our city was created and its citizens were treated to homemade soup, a roll and a cup of hot chocolate by the Relief Bus, an outreach program of NYC Relief. In this way we got to experience the communal dinner and outreach provided to the homeless. An act of solidarity to build understanding and empathy.
New York City Relief is a non-profit serving the needs of the homeless since 1989. The organization reaches out to 5 locations, 7 times a week with mobile care centers where they serve warm soup and bread and distribute hygiene kits.
What makes them unique is both their frequency (many soup kitchens and other meal providers are open only certain days, not all 7) and the manner in which they provide the meal. They set up tables and chairs on the sidewalk and create an intentional space of welcome for their homeless guests to come and sit, enjoy a peaceful meal and, more importantly, conversation. That act of conversation is something cherished by the clients who are often ignored (at best) or treated violently (at worst) when on the streets.
In addition to the mobile outreach of the Relief Bus, NYC Relief also has a Relief co-op where they partner with over 350 other nonprofits throughout NYC and NJ to provide direct services and access to things like job training, shelter and other housing, medical services, detox and drug counseling, connections to physical and mental therapy, medical care, etc. They also help provide transportation (through driving or metro cards) to these services. Their goal is to help the homeless improve their lives in a sustainable way.
Juan Galloway, President & CEO of New York City Relief, joined our homeless camp and in the morning led us through an amazing sermon sharing all kinds of information about the homeless population, as well as real life stories and testimonies from the homeless which really brought their plight into our realm of understanding and moved our hearts.
According to a study by the Coalition for the Homeless in 2018, there are over 63,000 people sleeping in NYC shelters each night and over 79,000 homeless people in NYC overall. Over 10,000 people are currently homeless in New Jersey – a 10% jump since last year. People don’t realize homelessness is an issue in our area, especially with the unemployment rate at a 50-year low (3.8% according to the US Labor Department).
The face of homeless is changing. Today, the homeless population is made up of returning vets unable to find work and maybe struggling with PTSD, drug-addicted teens, LQTBQ young adults disowned by their families, families with young children who cannot make enough to afford the rent and have been evicted, single moms escaping from domestic violence, and the mentally ill and poor, unable to secure mental and physical health services.
It was truly humbling to struggle to make a place to sleep on the ground and to try and secure a few hours of sleep.
Danielle and I were not successful – we each only managed about 1 hour of sleep that night. And while we spent time gratefully thinking and chatting about getting home to a hot shower and soft bed, we remembered and talked about our how our homeless brothers and sisters would be worried about where to go to get dry socks, find lunch or dinner (many of the homeless can only secure one meal a day, at most), where they could possibly sleep the upcoming night.
When the homeless sleep outside they never really relax because they are often chased away by police, verbally and physically attached, spit upon, and robbed by others. Thinking about all of this and trying to imaging that experience was a true reality check for the participants, who, as most people, take things like lunch and a bed for granted!!
Our Saturday night event had 575 people participants and raised a total of $50,000 for New York City Relief. The organization’s ambitious 6-year strategy is to add 2 outreaches a year and completely saturate the NYC Metro area with an outreach within walking distance from every major transportation hub in the area. The funds raised from our event would support their goals and translated to over 6,500 meals, over 3,300 kits and over 1,600 metro cards (used for clients to get to medical appointments, training, and other services).
Tired and sore, humbled by the experience and feeling excited that we completed the event, Danielle and I celebrated alongside the other participants with a quick breakfast and a 7 a.m. service led by Juan Galloway.
We left grateful to have a home and people who love me, with a new perspective on the homeless, and eager to share our experience with others. I’ve always had a heart for the homeless and have worked with them frequently over the years. This experience further solidified my heart for their struggles and enabled me to continue to put my faith in action!
THANK YOU for following this week’s journey! XO XO….
- To see the other weeks in this 52 week journey (my second set of 52 weeks), visit: The Second Journey’s 52 Week
- To see my Original 52 Week journey please visit: My Original 52 Week Journey
You can learn more and support New York City Relief here: https://newyorkcityrelief.org/donate
You can learn more about Liquid Church here: https://liquidchurch.com/
- Labor Rate statistic from US Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/osec/osec20190503
- Watch the special HOMELESS CHURCH sermon by Juan Galloway here: https://liquidchurch.com/messages/homeless-church-series/making-space-at-the-table/
- Photos are mine from the event unless otherwise noted below.
- The black and white photos are from Liquid Church’s sermon: Homeless Church, a powerful sermon led by Juan Galloway, President & CEO of New York City Relief, which can be accessed here: https://liquidchurch.com/messages/homeless-church-series/making-space-at-the-table/
- Photo of Pastor Tim Lucas presenting the $50,000 check to Juan Galloway was taken from the Sunday morning event sermon, which you can watch here: https://liquidchurch.com/messages/homeless-church-series/making-space-at-the-table/