CRE Sleep Out: What It’s Like to Spend a Night on the Streets of NYC
Every year dozens of real estate executives in New York sleep out as part of an international movement to support Covenant House, a nonprofit charity serving homeless youth. This year Niall Smart and I decided to get behind this great cause and sleep out.
The act of sleeping out is fairly straightforward: we are simply given a sleeping bag and a cardboard box and we are given the task of sleeping outside on the streets for one night.
Going into it, I thought that it would be somewhat ofa straightforward task given that I had done something very similar for a charity in Dublin when I was a student. I was mistaken. I think age has given me a different perspective on life, homelessness, and my willingness to give up certain familiar luxuries.
The Night Begins
On arrival to Covenant House I was greeted by a large group of very warm and lively people from all across the New York real estate world. I was very encouraged to see people coming from the entire spectrum of CRE, including Patrick and Ben from the Kushner Companies and Arie from Wiredscore (to name just a few). How fitting, I thought, that people who spend their lives trying to build and develop properties were all here to try shelter some of the most vulnerable people in New York.
Shortly after, we were introduced to Hannah, a truly courageous woman with a story that was both shocking and inspiring in equal measure. She shared with us how she came to be involved with the Covenant House, and it just further solidified my decision to support this very important organization.
After some more mingling with friends old and new, it was time to hit the pavement. Literally. Initially there was a jovial mood, the novelty making the task seem less daunting. But, the feeling was short lived. Once people realized how hard the concrete was on their back and how thin the cardboard provided was, there were some audible groans in the group as people tried to make themselves “comfortable.”
Even with almost perfect conditions for an October evening, the cold still crept up through the ground and into our bones. The constant din of buses and trucks and late night revelers passing by made prolonged sleep an impossibility. Police sirens were like obnoxious snooze buttons that we couldn’t slap away.
During a period of sleeplessness, I thought how appropriate that not far from the bright lights and buzz of Times Square, there is a shelter for the most vulnerable in our society, proving the old adage true that “all that glistens is not gold,” New York attracts people from all over the country and for some; the reality they face is life on the streets when they get here. This moment of reflection made me realize just how fortunate I am and just how worthy a cause Covenant House is.
When 5:30 finally rolled around, I was very glad that it was time to go home. But the relief was matched with a pang of guilt — I was so relieved to be going home to a shower and my bed, yet I only had to do this for one night and I was already grumpy, hungry, and unraveling like a cheap “I heart NY” t-shirt. To face this day after day, week after week would be soul crushing.
I can’t say that taking part in this event gives me even the slightest taste of what these children go through on a daily basis. What it does highlight to me is that much of our lives are dictated by outside forces very much out of our control and that Covenant House can help give people a second chance to turn their life around. A life saving chance, as Hannah put it.
Two things are very clear to me after my night on the streets: 1) I don’t want to do it again, but 2) I have to do it again. I will continue to sleep out so that we can raise money for these children to help them find a safe place to stay at night. It was pretty remarkable that the CRE community was able to raise $350,000 — a record breaking number for this CRE group — to help this amazing cause.