Jewish Social Justice Council holds ninth annual Sleepout for the Homeless

Students camp out in Amphitheatre to raise awareness, raise money


About 20 students participated Sunday in the first of two nights of the annual Sleepout for the Homeless in the Amphitheatre. The event is sponsored by the Jewish Social Justice Council — a subgroup of Hillel, the student-led Jewish group at the University.

The sleepout, now in its ninth year, is a two-night, three-day event which raises money and brings awareness to homelessness in Charlottesville.

Participants sleep outside either in tents or a Sukkah, a hut constructed for temporary housing. Third-year Engineering student Callum Weinberg, JSJC chair and the organizer of this year's event, said about 50 or 60 percent of the sleepout participants were Jewish, but that outreach efforts were widespread.

“A lot of it is friend connection, but also Facebook, Twitter, email, our website, chalking and flyering,” he said. “We also used HooVision. We really tried to branch out in terms of different avenues of publicity.”

Only current students are allowed to sleep out for the event, but Callum said there are multiple opportunities available for community members to participate. The sleepout features various speakers and events during the day, with discussion centered on additional ways students can help in the fight against homelessness.

“Community members are invited to find out more about homelessness and work that these organizations do at 6 p.m. on Sunday and 4 p.m. on Tuesday,” Weinberg said. “Each grant recipient is giving a speech at that time. We have full calendar of events for Monday and Tuesday.”

Fourth-year College student Haley Swartz has participated in the sleepout for the past two years. In addition to efforts by the JSJC to solicit donations from local businesses, she said participants are asked to reach out to family and friends for individual sponsorships.

“For the last few years we’ve done a raffle where we’ve gotten local businesses to donate goods or money,” she said. “We also get a lot of individual donations. We send emails to family and people around the community, because you really never know who is affected by homelessness.”

All funds go directly to two local homeless organizations. In the past eight years, the organization has raised more than $27,000 to support homeless organizations in Charlottesville.

This year’s joint grant recipients are People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry and Families in Crisis. PACEM is a grassroots organization which coordinates shelter options for the homeless in the Charlottesville area during winter months. Families in Crisis, which is federally-funded grant associated with Project Hope, works to promote the success of homeless youth in school.

“[The event will result in] funds raised for local organizations that fight homelessness, specifically PACEM and Families in Crisis,” Callum said. “Awareness will be raised as well. We hope to educate and inform students about homelessness in part by bringing in speakers from the these organizations.”

Swartz said participants can still go to class during the day and stop at their homes when needed.

“Part of the risk is understanding what the homeless people feel and trying to identify with them,” she said. “You’ll wake up at 6 a.m. and everything gets busy again. But the tents stay for three days. Part of what we [do] is sleeping out, but it’s mostly about the awareness aspect — the fact that so many people have to deal with homelessness on a daily basis.”

The sleepout is held near the time of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, which commemorates the 40 years Israelites spent wandering in the desert following their exodus from Egypt. During this time, it was commonplace for the Israelites to entertain guests in Sukkahs, like the one set up now in the Amphitheatre.

“These individuals need help getting back on their feet, and getting back their normal lives,” Weinberg said. “Organizations that support the homeless communities help them in different ways. Sometimes involves complicated problems, like providing housing solutions, but often it's just providing a meal, or a warm place to sleep during the winter months.”

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