NYPIRG stepped into the shoes of the homeless Friday night, hosting a Sleep Out from 7 p.m.
to 2 a.m. underneath Cleveland Hall to raise awareness and support for over 5,000 people living
on the streets of Buffalo, and millions more elsewhere.
Participants braved the drastic temperature drop, wind and occasional snow flurries to learn
what a person in severe poverty goes through every day.
"It brings a lot of attention to campus," said NYPIRG coordinator Patty Ceravole. "We start
planning at the beginning of every semester. We were excited to have it a little closer to the
warmer weather, but even though it's not great weather out, I think it'll really show the student
body another level of the reality of what homeless people deal with in Western New York."
The organization held non-perishable food, clothing and toiletry collections during the campaign,
and had quick facts about homelessness available for those who attended, along with snacks
and hot chocolate to stay warm and nourished.
Kathleen Jordan, NYPIRG's chair of the board of directors, said this issue affects more than just
one group of people.
"The stereotype of a homeless person is single male, either suffering from mental illness or
substance abuse, sleeping out on the street, but that's not what the bulk of the homeless
population is," she said. "It's families, with children."
This semester's event focused on LGBT homelessness, with speakers who emphasized the
importance of keeping gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in safe homes.
Kitty Lambert-Rudd, an LGBT activist and one-half of the first same-sex couple to legally wed in
New York State, spoke of her experience as an unemployed, homeless mother. Diagnosed with
liver cancer, she spent nine months in the hospital, recovered, and came home to find herself
jobless, and her house foreclosed upon. She and her three small children lived out of a Ford
Pinto until Lambert-Rudd could find help.
"At first I was so ashamed of being homeless," Lambert-Rudd said. "I'm a mom, I'm supposed
to protect my children. That should not have happened. So I spent three weeks hiding from my
She added that the average age of an LGBT youth who ends up homeless - usually due to
parents who refuse to accept their sexual or gender orientation - is 14 years and seven months,
which is too young to have working papers.
"They have no job skills, no idea where to get food, or clothing, where to sleep, where to go get
help," she said. "They're the most vulnerable they can possibly be, and there are individuals
cruising the streets looking for these little chickens to abuse.
"For one of you, this issue is going to eat at your heart, and you're standing here
thinking, 'What's it like to be 14 years old, out in this every night, wondering why the people who
should have loved and protected you dispensed of you like so much garbage?' And then you're
going to step up."
After a brief statement from Pride Alliance president Shakora Purks, participants took part in
an hour of silence to commemorate the Day of Silence that Pride held earlier in the semester,
in honor of those silenced by anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. Then, S.P.I.R.I.T
Gospel Choir arrived to break the silence with song. There were also board games and other
simple forms of entertainment.
The main theme of the Sleep Out was education and, ultimately, action regarding homelessness
in Buffalo and elsewhere across the country.
"Without education of the factors leading to hunger, homelessness, poverty in general and who
it actually affects, we cannot hope to solve this problem," Jordan said.
Angelica Rodriguez can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.