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Shelter House Holds Annual Sleep Out

More than 40 people spend night outdoors to support homeless.

More than 40 people spent the night outdoors, in their vehicles or a tent, to raise awareness for the  homeless situation in Fairfax County Friday, Oct. 19.

More than 40 people spent the night outdoors, in their vehicles or a tent, to raise awareness for the homeless situation in Fairfax County Friday, Oct. 19. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— As she prepared to go to sleep in the front seat of her pickup truck, Jewell Mikula thought about what had led her here, to a night sleeping in her car on a cold October evening.

"I thought to myself, what if I were a victim of domestic violence, and I had escaped with my two children? If I had pulled into this parking lot with no one to turn to, and how I would find a way to feed them, to get them to school, to keep them safe?” she said. “At that moment, it was true reality to me.”

Mikula was one of more than 40 people that spent the night of Friday, Oct. 19 in the elements, with only four items in order to raise funds and awareness for the homeless in Fairfax County. Shelter House, along with United Community Ministries and Northern Virginia Family Services, held the sleep out for the second year, to give its supporters a chance to experience the life of the people they try and help.

THIS IS THE SECOND YEAR Shelter House has held the True Reality Sleep out in the wooded area next to their Fox Mill Shopping Center offices. Participants were limited to four items, which for most included their car or a tent to sleep in, a sleeping bag, pillow and another item such as a cell phone or iPod.

“Shelter House launched the True Reality Sleep out last year to raise awareness about the trauma and uncertainty a homeless family may face,” said Kim Kendrick, president of Shelter House’s board of directors. “This event is not a simulation, but rather an event of dedicated people who are committed to our mission to provide supportive services and promote self-sufficiency for homeless families in Fairfax County.”

Participants in the sleepover planted 1,500 paper hearts in the ground as part of the evening’s activities, one for each person in Fairfax County who is homeless right now.

“Hopefully soon these hearts will just be paper hearts, and won’t stand for anything, certainly not more than a thousand people without homes,” said Supervisor Penny Gross (DMason).

Shelter House operates three shelters in the area to provide refuge for the homeless and those experiencing domestic violence. Their Artemis House is the County’s only crisis domestic violence shelter. They served 200 families last year, and were named Non-Profit of the Year by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

“When people are in conflict, they need someone to reach out to them, and we’re fortunate to have partners like Shelter House and its supporters to offer that,” said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill). “I’m very impressed that the people here tonight have decided to give their time to bring awareness to this issue.”

Members of United Community Ministries participated in the event last year, but were invited back as partners this year.

“I had never done anything like this before, and last year’s event really stayed with me, I found myself reflecting on it for months afterward,” said Elizabeth McNally, deputy director at United Community Ministries. “Events like Help the Homeless walks are good as well, but something like this shines a light on the reality all around us.”

United Community Ministries is based in Alexandria, and they provided assistance to 5,000 households last year in the form of job training and placement, all-day preschool, food and financial assistance, transitional housing and other programs designed for those transitioning out of poverty.

THIS YEAR’S EVENT featured double the participation of last year’s, and Mikula says that is a trend they hope to continue.

“We would like to grow this event more and more, because it is a great way to bring up awareness of homelessness and the results of domestic violence in this country,” Mikula said.

More information on Shelter House can be found at www.shelterhouse.org.