Members of the St. John’s community on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean joined more than 60,000 global citizens who slept outside as part of The World’s Big Sleep Out on Saturday, December 7.
The event, billed as “the world’s largest display of solidarity with and support of those experiencing homelessness and displacement,” seeks to raise $50 million to help the homeless around the world.
In New York, the Office of Campus Ministry supported more than 25 students who participated in the sleep out in Times Square. Among them was sophomore Logan Aquino, an Accounting major.
“Homelessness does not discriminate—it can take a hold of anyone, anywhere,” he said. “I have been a part of numerous activities on campus that support and assist people who are homeless, but the World’s Big Sleep Out provides a tremendous platform to raise awareness of the issue.”
Braving that evening’s 20 degree temperatures with Logan was fellow sophomore, Sydney Iseminger, who is studying Anthropology and Theology.
“As the night drew on, it became overwhelmingly cold—both physically and mentally,” she recalled. “Due to a lack of sleep and the poor conditions, my body felt like it was shutting down.” She added, “While I still cannot grasp the suffering the homeless face, I can change the way I regard homelessness and demand the policy changes needed to end the displacement of the millions of people sleeping on the street.”
Students at the University’s Paris, France, location also participated in the effort, including Špela Kunstelj, a Chemistry major in her sophomore year. “Participating in the Sleep Out was important to me as I have seen many homeless people on the streets of New York and Paris,” she explained.
This experience emphasized for her the role of a Vincentian and global university. “Homelessness is a worldwide problem and St. Vincent de Paul gave us the tools to address it,” she said. “Sleeping outside in December was not comfortable—but while I made the choice to sleep outside, the homeless have none.”
The United Nations Human Settlements Program estimates that 1.1 billion people live in inadequate housing and that more than 100 million people have no housing at all. There are an estimated 70.8 million people displaced throughout the world because of war, natural disasters, and extreme poverty.
“This event really helped me realize how lucky I am,” said Beatriz San Juan, a sophomore studying Environmental Science, who slept out in New York. “I go to an amazing University, and have a home and support from loved ones. Many of those who are homeless may not have the support system to encourage them to get the help they need.”