Brannen is executive director of Covenant House in Southeast Washington, which operates a shelter and helps the city's homeless youth. The house recently hosted a fundraiser in which nearly 20 local business leaders slept outside for the night, getting a taste of what it's like to sleep on the streets. The event raised $60,000 for the D.C. chapter.
What was it like sleeping outside?
When you're sleeping in an urban environment, in a city, even though we were in a safe space ... and had security in the parking lot, every little sound and light, you feel like you can't sleep. ... You become hypersensitive -- you're more nervous, that makes you not sleep well. Plus, it was cold out. Even though we had sleeping bags, you're also on a hard asphalt or concrete. It gives you a good appreciation that, if you're a homeless young person, you're worried about protecting yourself.
How does that affect homeless kids during the day?
It wears on your psyche. But you can't do anything to prepare yourself to get out of that situation -- it's not like you can do that and go get a job or go to school. So they're really in a tough spiral downward for young people and adults alike who nave no safe place to actually be.
Why was the event around Thanksgiving?
It builds awareness having it fall at a time when the nation is thinking about hunger and for themselves relating it to their own Thanksgivings. It really allows that juxtaposition ... and you see the depth of despair that these young kids go through.
What will the money raised go toward?
We operate support services in education, workforce development and child care so young moms can go out and work during the day. ... We also have an apartment program and crisis shelter with about ... 90 beds between them.
- Liz Farmer