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Ohio Youth Learn About Homelessness

Youth sitting around firepit during Homeless on Hillard event

Youth sit around a firepit during the Homeless on Hilliard event.

For the last eleven years, youth at West Shore UU Church have spent a cold winter’s night outdoors to raise awareness of homelessness in our community, called Homeless on Hilliard. This year, we decided to do things a little differently. We added a day of learning at an organization working with people experiencing homelessness and we opened registration to UU youth in the Cleveland and WACKY (Wooster, Akron, Canton/Cleveland, Kent, Youngstown) Clusters.

This year, we added an “Urban Plunge” to our day of learning. On March 7th, four youth and three adults spent the day with Paula Miller at the Cleveland Catholic Worker’s drop-in space. They helped prepare and serve a meal and spent time chatting with the clients who dropped in to eat and pick up free toiletries. We discussed the importance of community and connecting with each other. The youth also learned about the Catholic Worker movement and discussed its similarities with Unitarian Universalism. Then, we were led on a walk and learned about how gentrification is affecting the Near West Side neighborhood of Cleveland. Our day ended with a visit from Kate Lodge from A Place 4 Me, an organization that works with unhoused youth ages 18-24. She shared the unique challenges faced by youth, such as aging out of foster care or being rejected by their family, which can lead to homelessness.

youth build cardboard shelters during homeless on hilliard

Youth build temporary shelters out of cardboard during the Homeless on Hilliard event.

After the “Urban Plunge”, the youth headed back to West Shore and were joined by six more youth to begin Homeless on Hilliard. Everyone needed to work together to make it through the cold night. While the brave adult volunteers built a warm fire in a pit on the front lawn of the church, the youth worked quickly to assemble their shelters using cardboard boxes, tarps, duct tape, and bungee cords. Throughout the night, people drove by to offer support and make donations. For dinner, everyone brought an ingredient or two with them that we used to make a delicious stone soup over the fire. One of the youth even read the story of stone soup to us as we ate. After that, everyone hunkered down in their shelter or by the fire to stay warm. Everyone made it safely through the night and got to experience a little bit of what it is like to be homeless on a cold night.

This annual event is also a fundraiser. Each year, the youth choose an organization to support and this year they chose support two local organizations serving unhoused people, Urban Hope and Metanoia, by donating menstrual products. Seventy-nine packages of menstrual products were collected along with over $600 in cash to purchase more!

For three weeks prior to attending this event, youth from the WACKY cluster learned more about homelessness in their RE classes. The success of this event can hopefully be duplicated in other partnership opportunities with clusters and congregations.