Updated: Jan 27, 2019
I'm a senior executive at a global software company, and next month, will be homeless.
Honestly, I’m scared.
On a single winter night in in 2014, Chicago employees and volunteers conducted a citywide count of 6,294 homeless individuals while scouring the streets and city-funded homeless shelters. Nearly one thousand were sleeping outdoors that night in around zero degree weather, according to Medill.
And on January 22, 2016, I will become one of them.
Chicago’s homeless – used to being harassed by police - are pretty secretive about where they stay to keep warm in the windy city. So I don’t yet have a place in mind to go to. I hear the red line train is an attractive place to sleep – riding from one end of the city to the other and back again all night long on the heated el car.
But this can’t be a feasible solution night after night. And it certainly can't make for a good night's sleep. Chicago’s homeless need a real place to shelter and sleep. And the options are limited.
A Chicago Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet reports that 125,848 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of the 2014-15 school year. The same fact sheet indicates that the City reports having 2,064 emergency shelter beds available, 196 (8%) fewer beds than in 2013. Chicago claims 3,903 transitional housing beds and 8,460 beds in permanent supportive housing.
Perhaps this imbalance between the number of available beds and number of people in needs is why a National Coalition for the Homeless report suggests that each year, about 700 homeless Americans die from hypothermia. So the idea of “sleeping outdoors” on the 22nd (a night with average temperatures of 16 degrees before windchill) has me more than a little bit worried.
Those who know me professionally or personally may be surprised to hear of this expected homelessness. After all, I don’t suffer drug or alcohol addiction, I’m not mentally ill, I have a great job, and I don’t show any of the outward signs of the “obviously homeless” you recognize on the street.
Nationally, a recent study found that 76% of Americans are living “paycheck to paycheck,” with ‘fewer than one in for Americans [having] enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses,” while 50% have “less than a three-month cushion, and 27% [having] no savings at all.”
That's not the kind of person who appears "obviously homeless." Perhaps this is why the Conference of Mayors reports that approximately 13% of Chicago’s homeless were employed in their December 2012 Hunger and Homelessness survey.
Indeed, many homeless work low-wage jobs in businesses you frequent each day. Not able to save quite enough for a first and last month’s rent, they are may stay in hotel rooms rented by the night when things get really bad (inexpensive rents by hotel standards, but more expensive than the monthly rent would be if they could amass an appropriate security deposit). Some use their limited income to make a payment on a car that they may sleep in, and which enables them to hold down their jobs.
Yet, these are not challenges I face either. Instead, I’m choosing to be homeless, for one night, to raise awareness around issues that face Chicago’s most vulnerable community. I will begin the cold Friday night on January 22nd, confident that when morning breaks, I have a nice home to return to for a warm bath and plenty to eat.
I’ve invited people to sponsor my night of homelessness by making a financial donation to the 530 Fullerton Foundation – an organization that exists to successfully connect people with resources to enable them to achieve a better quality of life. The organization provides easy access to community, food and overall wellness for Chicago’s most vulnerable and under-served people, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
I’ve volunteered in some capacity or another for over 15 years, and I’ve come to realize that the issue of homelessness is one that makes many uncomfortable – one we’d just rather not see, one we'd just rather not know about what homeless life is all about.
In the midst of a holiday season, where we gather with family to trade ugly holiday sweaters with one another, it’s just not fun to think about people who don’t have enough clothing – ugly or not – to keep warm. But we need to. And so, I’ve chosen to step into their shoes – if only for one night on Friday the 22nd– to experience it firsthand, and share the experience with others.
By raising awareness, I hope to help the Foundation raise money to support their programs – like the hot meal they’ll serve to the 125 guests who will likely appear at their door on Saturday, the 23rd, or the various support services they make available all year round.
Will you support me by making a donation to help the 530 Fullerton Foundation in their work? It’s easy to do, at this link online.
If you’re not able to help financially, can you encourage me by giving it a “thumbs up,” sharing words of encouragement in the comments section below, and by sharing it with your network?
Wishing you a happy holiday.
About: JD Miller is a senior technology executive with a career spanning small startups and large public companies. He uses this expertise to help organizations increase and sustain sales performance. He is also active in Chicago’s philanthropic community, with a special interest in issues related to hunger and homelessness.
You can follow Dr. Miller on Twitter @JDM_Chicago