TENT CITY — What's it like to be homeless during a Chicago snowstorm? About 200 participants in the Out in the Open Sleep Out learned the hard way Friday night.
Yet that's nothing compared to the experience of 22,000 young homeless people in the city, according to organizers, many of whom sleep outdoors every night without the amenities available at the fundraising and concert event held on Cricket Hill in Uptown.
On social media, images of colorful tents atop the green grassy hill were replaced with monochromatic ones as snow blanketed the area.
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"Everybody got tents up before the snow started, and once it started, it was like Mother Nature was painting a picture," said Tracy Baim, executive producer of the event and publisher of Windy City Times, her voice hoarse after the long night.
"It really brought it home: Here it is, the first snow of the year, and there are people living out on the streets every day. ... This was just a few hours of [the participants'] life, and people said, I can't even imagine this being every day of the year," Baim said.
The event raised about $40,000 from 700 donors for 19 charitable groups that serve homeless youth, Baim said. (You can still donate here, through the end of the year.)
The tent city was set up close to a viaduct where Uptown homeless people stay on a regular basis. Some came over to watch the stage program and enjoy food provided by Fight2Feed, Baim said. There also was a tent of donated items like school supplies, sleeping bags, clothes and snacks, which they were welcome to take.
The crowd, which started at about 400 people for stage performances and speakers 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., dwindled to about 200 brave souls as night fell and the snowfall thickened.
Sami Grisafe, a musician who performed at the event, said she met one homeless youth who said he'd recently had some belongings stolen on the street, and was grateful to receive warm, dry clothing from the event.
"We get caught up a lot in the Internet and thinking that just voicing our opinion on Facbeook is enough, but it's even more powerful to be out in person and see these faces and be with people of all kinds to collectively work toward a goal," said Grisafe, who along with partner Kathy Kuras owns the company Vicious Muse which produced the stage performances for the event.
Grisafe stayed from 4 p.m. Friday until 7:30 a.m. Saturday, she said: "And that's just one night, and with tents. I can't imagine what it's like on a daily basis. It hit home for a lot of people."
The lessons came in hard and fast: "Pretty?" Twitter user @Natcogift1 wrote, referring to the snow, "Not so much if you're homeless."
"Our homeless siblings do this 24/7, 365. #thataintright," wrote @Southloopcm.
"No auditory privacy when homeless. Your life is in the open. No way not to experience others lives," wrote @Alison985.
Even Ald. James Cappleman (46th) weighed in: "Now it's raining. Trust me on this, when sleeping outside, snow is MUCH better than cold rain."
In the morning, a common phrase on Twitter was "grateful" as the Sleep Out participants returned home with soggy tents.
Another: "Don't ever let me do that again," @Alison985 wrote.
With donations from the night's event, advocates hope to make that a reality for the area's chronically homeless.
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