Good Cause of the Month: CFS SleepOut

Help end youth homelessness with Child and Family Services



photo by tom kallechey
Participants in last year's SleepOut gather before braving the elements.

“Every child deserves a warm, safe place to sleep each night.”

This is the message of Manchester-based Child and Family Services as they organize the third annual SleepOut, a show of solidarity where community members spend a night sleeping outside. The fundraiser hopes to raise $180,000 this year to go toward services for the more than 1,500 runaway, homeless and at-risk youth who annually seek CFS' help.

Youth homelessness is a real, if not a visible, problem for hundreds of children and teenagers in Manchester left without homes for reasons ranging from abuse and neglect to mental illness, disability, substance abuse, sexual identity and poverty.

Sleep is perhaps the greatest challenge and the largest liability for these displaced youths. Adult homeless shelters have age minimums for admission, and legally, children under 18 are required to have a guardian or become a responsibility of the state. But declaring a parent or guardian "unfit" can mean facing a protracted legal battle for a teenager, possibly followed by a move away from his or her community. Many kids would rather take their chances on a friend’s couch than with the foster care system.

But not all displaced youths are able to bounce from couch to couch. For the less fortunate ones, sunset means facing the elements. Whether it’s another night of sleeping in a parked car or sitting at a 24-hour fast food place until dawn, sleep doesn’t come easily for the kids who have slipped through the cracks in our system.

To bring awareness to this plight and to raise funds to aid our state's homeless youth, Child and Family Services of New Hampshire (CFS) created the SleepOut. Proceeds from the fundraiser go towards the many services provided by CFS. A non-profit organization dependent on private funding, CFS tries to make hard situations a little bit easier. They offer free showers, food and clothing to youth who are at risk. And after immediate needs are met and staff has gained the trust of an individual, long-term solutions are available, through such programs as educational and vocational advocacy, interview preparation and counseling for mental health or substance abuse. The organization teams up with social workers at their youth center to help teens find affordable housing, take their HiSET exam and get back into high school.

Child and Family Services has an interesting mission: to put themselves out of a job. The primary goal of the organization is to end youth homelessness completely by 2020. To do that, though, they’re going to need engaged community members.

That’s why, on March 24, 2017 members of the Manchester community will be huddled in sleeping bags and blankets at Stanton Plaza as a visual reminder of the 300+ youth who "sleep out" each night in the Queen City.

This experience won’t be the experience of the 300+ homeless youth of Manchester. For one thing, there's a canopy guaranteed over SleepOut participants' heads. People bring nice camping equipment, knowing that in the morning, they will return to their warm, dry homes. Law enforcement is not required to wake up the participants of SleepOut 2017 and ask them to move. And the most striking difference, perhaps, is that being a participant in a fundraiser like this is all about supporting our greater community – while being homeless is an education in loneliness.

But if you'd like to give a bit of exercise to your empathy muscles, dig out that old sleeping bag, find your headlamps and camp gear and clean out the spare change in your sofa. The clutter in our houses is as much a luxury as the homes themselves, and in this coming year, it can go towards something great. On March 24, come and help make the invisible visible.

Want to get involved?

You can support the SleepOut as either a sleeper or a donor. Participants who join the ranks of the sleepers are asked to raise $1,000 each and should plan to bring warm clothes and gear. But if you'd like to help from the comfort of home, you can play an equally important role as a donor. The event's fundraising website lists all the participants you can support, but we'd recommend donating to Team NH Magazine. Maggie Wallace and Jasmine Inglesmith, who wrote and photographed our January feature story on Child and Family Services, will be participating in the SleepOut this year as representatives of New Hampshire Magazine. Donate to their team page at crowdrise.com/NH-Magazine to help us help CFS!

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