Most will never know the difficulties of living without a home — however, it’s something that could happen to almost anyone.
This was the exact catalyst for Fortitude Community Outreach’s Night on the Street event, which took place from 5 p.m. Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday outside St. Paul’s Shelter Site at 240 S. Dearborn Ave., Kankakee.
The event was designed to give participants a small taste of what homeless people experience overnight. These participants chose between setting up a tent or a box to sleep in, or to sleep in their vehicle.
To participate, attendees were asked to raise funds prior to the start of the event. Fortitude director Dawn Broers shared in her opening remarks that the original goal was $10,000 — something they were unsure if they could meet.
Fortitude wound up surpassing and doubling the goal, and $21,355 was raised prior to the start of the event. The initial $20,000 would be going toward shelter needs as well as a fund to help guests with deposits and first month’s rent when working to get a home. All of the money raised over that donation mark will be going to a capital fund to help reach the goal of developing a new shelter space.
“We are not going to raise [the goal] again, but I’m going to let you know tonight, for the very first time, that we have been offered a piece of land in Kankakee for a shelter,” Broers told the crowd Friday night.
“But, we have to first make sure that this is a piece of land that the city council will approve, and, if so, then we can move forward with building a brand new shelter on that site.”
Following this announcement was a panel discussion with representatives from KCCSI, Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army — all of whom work with homeless individuals in the community. Additional speakers throughout the evening included Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe and Sheriff Mike Downey as well as guests — past and present — of the shelters.
Over the course of Friday night and Saturday morning, participants were provided a menu of challenges to complete that will help in the immersive experience of homelessness, such as making an MRE meal, walking around town with a CityPak backpack the weight carried by most homeless and riding the metro bus. Games and contests took place throughout the event — including a temperature test to see who had built the warmest sleeping space.
Fortitude volunteers Misty Chouinard and Tiffany Neukomm said that the event was to show that homelessness is prevalent in more areas than people think. Neukomm shared she hopes the event displays that homelessness and the work that Fortitude does is “not a hidden thing.”
“We’re really just trying to raise awareness to get [guests] into someplace permanent — whether it be their own place or a shelter,” said Chouinard. “We need someplace permanent.”
Kankakee native Melissa Endicott spoke to the importance of people being aware that this could happen to anyone, and that it’s important to treat homeless individuals with kindness. She speaks from experience after having been homeless for three years.
“I’ve seen people get stepped over like they’re not even human and it’s wrong ... it’s just wrong,” she said.
Endicott reflected on rough memories of people treating her and friends poorly — to which she reminds people that it is possible to be both human and kind. However, this is not a time in her life she would change for anything.
“I found out who I am and what I’m capable of and what the world is about,” she said. “Compassion goes a long way.”
When the event ended at 2 p.m. Saturday, the amount raised was $28,215.