WOODLAND PARK, NJ - One particular local resident felt the need to a take a stand by lying down, in order to spotlight the plight of the homeless.
Lori Couso Hinkle took part in this year's "Sleep Out America," a one-night event that benefits the Covenant House, which houses homeless teens and youth. Covenant House was founded in 1972 with the mission of helping homeless kids escape the streets. Today, it is a privately funded charity providing loving care and vital services to homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited youth.
"Sleep Out America" is a once a year event with the goal of raising funds to keep homeless kids off the street.
Hinkle decided to become homeless one for the night and spent an overnight sleeping on the street on Nov. 16. She explained that when she was younger, she would often see people sleeping on the street when she would visit New York City.
"Ever since I was a little girl and my aunt would take me to the city to see the parade at Thanksgiving," she explained. "I would see people sleeping on the street by the Port Authority and it would bother me. I would ask my aunt if we could buy them breakfast and she would just tell me, 'We can't help everyone; just keep walking.' I would stay up at night worrying about these people. That never left me."
During her teens Hinkle said she would try to do what she could to help, such as bringing coffee and donuts to the homeless every year when she went to the parade.
"I cannot walk past a homeless person without acknowledging them in some way and giving them whatever I can," she added. "I decided that because of my love for the homeless, I wanted to see what it was really like to sleep on the street. I thought this one night in particular, would be the perfect time to do it since it is a nation-wide fundraiser. I could raise funds for homeless youth while experiencing what they go through."
According to Hinkle, some people who participated in the event did so in their own backyard, some in a stadium, and others in different locations.
"You could do it wherever you wanted, so we decided to do the real deal," she explained. "We took a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag and we drove into New York City, and handed out some socks to the homeless. We then picked a street where there were no homeless already sleeping and we settled in. We didn't want to invade their space and we didn't want them to be insulted that we were trying out their lifestyle for just one night."
Hinkle got settled around 9 p.m. during a windy and very cold evening, but she and her friend did not want to back out.
"The wind was so strong there were times we couldn't even hear ourselves think. I had a lot of layers of clothing on. We didn't have any food or water. We lied down and tried to sleep," she recalled. "I could not sleep at all. It was too cold, too lit up with street lights, and way too noisy with the wind and the traffic. It was uncomfortable, cold and scary. I couldn't stop thinking about how these people that live out there have no choice. They have to urinate on the street. They have to freeze. They have to starve. They have no choice. I kept trying to doze off and it just wasn't happening."
At one point, a car alarm where she was sleeping kept going off. A woman came out and she let it go off for about 15 minutes.
"I couldn't help but think she did it on purpose to try and get us to move. We did not move," she added. "At 5:30 a.m. I had enough so I got up and woke up my friend. We decided to pack up our stuff and go home."
Hinkle said the idea for sock donations came about when she and a friend began collecting blankets in order to cover homeless individuals they would spot on the streets.
"One night we were talking to a homeless man and he asked us for a pair of socks. It was then that we learned that socks are the most needed and least donated item of clothing to the homeless community," Hinkle said. "They are walking most of the day and their shoes are worn out, their feet get wet and sweaty and they get holes in their socks. Nobody ever thinks to donate socks so we started on Facebook asking for donations of socks. We then turned our mission of covering people with blankets to giving them nice warm toasty socks for their feet."
She, along with her friend, formed a non-profit organization called Socks for Homeless Soles and on a weekly basis, they deliver socks directly to the people living on the street.
"This is our third year doing this, but our first year of being an official non-profit organization," she added. "Last Christmas we delivered socks in a Christmas stocking and also had little treats in there for them. All we do is drive around and pull up next to someone sleeping. I always announce what I'm doing so as not to scare them and leave them socks."
Additionally, they donate sandwiches and other food items, along with water.
"I can tell you, the homeless are not greedy. They never ask for more. They hardly ever ask for money and if they are not hungry they do not take the food," she further added.
After reflecting on her experience, Hinkle said that she learned a lot about the every day challenges homeless individuals face.
"There is no way in the world anyone would choose to live this way," she noted. "Be it mental illness, drugs, alcohol, running away from an unsafe home, nobody chooses to live like an animal. I was really sad the next day and will make it my mission to continue to raise awareness and to at least try to help in my own way."
For more information, visit www.sleepoutamerica.org to get all the details of the event and the Covenant House organization. You can also visit Hinkle's Facebook page "Socks for Homeless Soles" to learn more about her non-profit organization.