One thing that is significant than any other projects from the previous half of my YAV year is “The Longest Night.” That event changed my perspective about the homelessness. The Longest Night is 24 hours memorial service for the homeless people who have died in the year. Several cities like Los Angeles and New York City do these events every year.
On December 21, 2018, I couldn’t make to the first service at St. Luther because I was working in the tutoring program at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (my work placement), so I missed the march of people carrying the picket signs. All of them were painted with the ages of the deceased persons. Some had names, and others were without names. Few carried a pine box coffin. Around 9 PM, I walked in the rain after I left the church. I walked into the tent to see an advocate giving a speech. I talked to a few allies such as one who is the United Methodist member. I was so excited to meet one. Every once a while, pouring rain caused the roof of our tent almost collapsed. We all worked together to keep the water out by tightening the flaps and using brooms. We as in me, organizers, and homeless people were all under a giant tent. I think there was thirteen of us.
While feeling the coldness, I doubted if I would stay long. Then, I felt a nudge from God saying that I needed to meet the organizer. I asked the nearest person, and this person led me to the organizer. I expressed my ambivalent feeling about either staying all night or going back to the YAV house to the organizer who was homeless. He asked me what my fears were. I was afraid of what I would be like the next day and that I was the only one who has a home inside the tent. I felt uncomfortable at that idea. The organizer asked me, “Where would you learn more? Out of your comfort zone or staying in your comfort zone?” I responded, “Out of my comfort zone.” Then, he got up to the table where many picket signs and a pine box coffin from the march. He picked up several picket signs and handed it to me. One was closer to my age. Then, the organizer found one, and he held it in front of him. He said, “I am the same age as this person.” That moment put all of my thoughts in perspective. I couldn’t voice it how I felt at that moment or shared about it until I wrote it down in this blog.
From that moment with the organizer, I stayed. A different organizer needed someone to entertain an audience for the next few hours with songs. I volunteered and sang Broadway songs. Then, I talked to some of them including the guests of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Radcliffe Room Ministry. Talking to Radcliffe Room guests allow me to know them without me juggling the donated clothes for the women’s closet. I listened as they expressed their needs from the city.
Because of the pouring rain, we couldn’t sleep on the wet ground. I slept for 4 hours while sitting on a hard chair. Aftermath, I have sore knees, and my back was hurting. I was irritated. Imagine for how that must have felt if they had to sleep on the sidewalks or benches around a city for a couple nights.
I asked the organizer, “Why are some of them here instead of going to a shelter?” The organizer said, “They took a risk to be here instead of going to an available bed in a shelter.” I felt anger which was not an appropriate reaction. I believed that their sacrifices were unnecessary and not right because they deserved a night of being comfortable. Then, my organizer explained that the Longest Night event’s purpose is to educate the privileged people about homelessness.
Attending the event is a humble experience. I talked to the people at the tent as being me, not as a volunteer. I was there as a listener and learner. I am thankful that God led me and that I talked to the organizer. Without that conversation with the organizer, I would not have gained my growth.