Imagine you and your family not having a roof over your head as it approaches fall and winter. It’s 42 degrees, but it feels like below freezing on a Saturday night. High winds are not helping and you have no other choice but to sleep in your car. It feels like a cold chill all over your body all night and your nose is runny, your entire body feels like icicles, and you’re doing everything you can to keep your loved ones warm and safe for the night.
For many families experiencing homelessness this is a very real life scenario and for many others their car is their only shelter.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, Our House, a homeless shelter based Atlanta, hosted its fifth annual Wheels4Walls Sleep-in event, where community members and volunteers are invited to sleep in their cars for one night to raise awareness for families facing homelessness in the metro Atlanta area.
This was also their first time hosting the event in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nationwide, 8% of homeless people are military veterans, America’s youth accounts for 50,000 of its homeless, and over 200,000 of America’s homeless are families with children, according to the Atlanta Mission.
However, in a survey made by Partners for Home, a nonprofit organization created by Atlanta in 2013 that works to combat homelessness, reported a 38% decrease in the homeless population since 2020 in their “Point in Time Count”, which identifies people who were homeless on one night in January of each year.
In January 2022, according to the survey, volunteers counted 2,017 homeless people, with only 640 living on the streets. Both numbers are the lowest the annual count has recorded.
Our House’s goal is to end the cycle of homelessness for families and this unique and hands-on protest was a way to raise funds and to help families get out of their cars and into a home.
Volunteers arrived at the LAZ parking lot at 7 p.m. on Saturday, ate food, mingled in the cold weather, and slept in their cars until 7 a.m. the next morning.
Tyese Lawyer, president and CEO of Our House, said they want people to understand homelessness can be experienced by “all types of people” and families are one of the fastest growing populations of those who experience homelessness.
Lawyer also said when people aren’t compassionate or caring, it’s difficult to walk in someone else’s shoes.
“Having done this event in-person three times prior, I personally have a different appreciation for those who truly have nowhere to go,” she said. “The drive for me is that I love the work we (Our House) do. I really want others to understand that for families, you may not see them under a bridge or directly in the streets, but they are out there without a roof over their head.”
Nikira Walter, a worker at Our House, and her roommate Paige Ashton said they are “very passionate” about raising awareness to the homeless population in the Atlanta area.
“Homelessness is a bigger issue that most people don’t realize or stop to think about and I’m participating in this event for the very first time to bring awareness to such a significant issue in the metro Atlanta area,” Walter said.
“I come from California and to move to Atlanta and see how the weather is a bit more drastic, we would love to bring more awareness about it and see changes because it’s affecting many families,” Ashton said.
Mike Martin, vice chair board member at Our House, said he has been volunteering at the event since it began.
“I do this because this is such an issue for many families in the metro Atlanta area and I have grandkids,” he said. “My son has been to every one of these events with me and it’s important to teach our kids what can happen and what it’s like to be homeless. It’s important to bring awareness to this.”
Additionally, it was not required to stay and sleep the entire night, however most stayed to support the cause even in cold weather.
Funds raised benefit Our House programs for families experiencing homelessness, which includes shelter, early childhood education, job training, and access to support services and resources to achieve self-sufficiency.
Our House is located at 73 Boulevard NE, Atlanta.
For more information on Our House, visit ourhousega.org/wheels4walls.
For information on how to donate supplies to families and children, visit https://ourhousega.org/donate-supplies/.
To donate to aid end family homelessness, visit https://e.givesmart.com/events/soz/.