MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — Community members in Muskegon County are participating in a "sleep out" as a call to end homelessness.
Known as a "Winter Slumberland," officials partnered with The Worlds Big Sleep Out and UNICEF USA to host a sleepout from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., Saturday to Sunday. The event includes live entertainment like jazz music and poetry, a bedtime story by the Muskegon Heights Chief of Police and a video featuring Will Smith and Helen Mirren.
Participants have the option to sleep in a tent, sleeping bag, chair or even bring an RV to sleep in. Authorities from the Michigan State Police and Muskegon Heights Police Department were on hand to ensure everyone was safe while outside.
Event organizer Lashae Simmons said she anticipates about 100 participants, and they were going to spread the word through social media.
For Simmons, the event hits particularly close to home because she was someone who was homeless at one point. She said she saw a message about "The World's Big Sleepout" on her phone and saw Smith — one of her favorite celebrities — talking about a call to end homelessness. That's when she knew it was for her.
"I was homeless, and I was pregnant with two little boys," Simmons said, fighting tears.
Although she doesn't remember how long she was homeless for, she said her sister and niece were also homeless at the same time. But, her father helped her get out of that situation.
"My dad was working day and night to get a house up and going for me, and he did. I came out of it," Simmons said.
More than 50,000 people were expected to sleep out in cities across the world to create the world's largest display of solidarity and support for those experiencing homelessness and displacement.
According to the Covenant House, participants can use a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag and spend the night in a safe location outdoors, like a parking lot or a backyard. It's not about pretending to be homeless or about facing the life-or-death dangers of youth who live every day on the streets, but about solidarity and showing homeless youth unconditional love and respect.
Sleep Out has provided 4,000 youth with stable housing, 1,600 youth with employment and 720,000 nights of shelter.
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