Rain slices the chilling night air, beating against the sides of the parking garage located on the corner of Elm St. and Broadway in downtown Tyler. Inside, volunteers shiver and struggle to go to sleep knowing their one night of these rough conditions will end with day break, while others will continue to live through the horror of homelessness.
“It’s one of those things you know it’s there, but you don’t ever truly understand the depth of it,” said Sierra Bratton, TJC sophomore and participant in A Night without a Home.
Around 200 people armed with only sleeping bags, cardboard and the clothes on their backs spent a night without a home to help raise awareness for the issue.
“I feel like it’s a good chance to actually get out and experience, you know, gain a new perspective on society than what I am use to,” said Justin Daughety, TJC business major.
The night begins with a meal at Salvation Army, and then a .6 mile walk to the chosen sleeping spot. The atmosphere starts out light, with songs and welcome addresses, but when victims of homelessness start telling their stories the mood darkens.
“As they were talking I actually thought about my siblings, I have 3 younger siblings, and they mean a lot to me, and I just thought about what it would be like if they were in that position, and it really broke my heart to have to think about that,” said Baylee Cochran, TJC Freshman.
Ryan Button, a TJC sociology professor, spoke of the invisibility cloak society puts over the issue of homelessness. To try and help raise awareness, he chose a street intersection and stood with a sign that read “Please help the homeless”. To avoid eye contact with him while driving by people pulled down their visors, played with the radio stations, and focused on their cell phones.
“I know there are many times I have just passed by a homeless person and looked the other way, trying not to make eye contact,” said Cochran.
These are the actions, or rather lack of action, that allows the issue of homelessness to go unseen and untouched.
After hearing these stories, participants took part in a candlelit vigil for those who have died while homeless, and then were spread across the parking garage forced into a manmade isolation. As individuals struggled to sleep the rain began to fall, and with the rain fall came the shocking realization of how destructive this issue is physically and mentally.
The holidays are a time that most cherish and enjoy, but for others it is a time of anxiety. This is because many do not know where their meals will come from, so an extravagant Christmas dinner, or New Year’s party is out of the question. These are luxuries that people now take for granted because they don’t believe this could ever happen to them.
Over the holiday break, keep in mind those who are no longer with us and those who fight the battle of homelessness here in East Texas streets.