Pastors sleep outside to raise homelessness awareness

  • Fri Apr 16th, 2010 10:16pm
  • News

By Amy Daybert Herald Writer

EVERETT — David Parks and Mark Samuelson, pastors at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, like a challenge.

For the past three years, they have encouraged the church congregation to give to a charitable cause and then promised do something whacky if the fundraising goals were reached.

In 2008, the pastors said they would kiss a cow if their congregation gave nearly $10,000 to Heifer International in 2008. The congregation paid up and pastors puckered up. Last year, they agreed to eat raw fish when children put coins in the baptismal font, raising over $2,500 for clean water wells in Bangladesh.

This year, Parks and Samuelson decided to rally for a cause that’s closer to home.

They asked church members to support Habitat for Humanity’s construction of several homes near 63rd Street and Broadway. The pastors promised to spend one night sleeping on the street to raise awareness of homelessness if the congregation raised $1,000.

They came up with $4,589 during December and January.

Samuelson said that as he and Parks prepared to sleep in front of the church, at 215 Mukilteo Blvd., others asked if they could join them sleeping on the streets on April 10. Those included: Mary Fears, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County; Fred Safstrom, deputy executive director of Housing Hope; Everett mayor and member of the church congregation Ray Stephanson; Sylvia Anderson and John Hull from the Everett Gospel Mission and several other members of the congregation.

“I don’t think we realized going into this that it would have such an impact,” Samuelson said.

The group was invited to eat at the Everett Gospel Mission that night. They were given cards describing people who regularly use services offered by the mission and their situations.

“We had them emulate what it was like to be homeless and had them stand in line, take their own tray, and wait for a seat,” Anderson, who is chief executive of the Everett Gospel Mission said. “We wanted them to have that experience along with sleeping outside to understand the emotional consequences of sleeping outside.”

Mayor Stephanson’s card described a 43-year-old man who worked in construction until he broke his back, lost his job and his home. For awhile, the man lived out of his truck. Stephanson, who owns a truck of his own, decided to sleep in his truck bed for the night.

“I maybe slept 15 minutes the entire night,” he said. “It was very cold and very uncomfortable. Some of the thoughts I had were, ‘Thank goodness I have a bed and a house to go home to because I just couldn’t imagine being in that situation day after day.’ ”

Everett has worked and continues to work to end homelessness, Stephanson said. Everett joined a federal initiative in 2006 to end homelessness by 2016. In the past three years, 273 additional housing units have been provided in the city as a response to the problem. The city also contributes about $500,000 annually to agencies that help provide human needs such as housing.

“We are making progress,” Stephanson said. “Having gone through this experience, it really renewed my interest in ending homelessness.”

Those who spent the night outside were given a tour of the Everett Gospel Mission and visited by Everett police officers who told them about areas where homeless people spend the night.

They shared communion outdoors. The next morning, during Sunday service, they shared their thoughts about the experience with the church congregation.

“You don’t sleep when you sleep outside at least initially,” Anderson said. “I really think I learned that is really traumatizing in and of itself.”

The church may invite people from other churches to sleep outside to raise awareness of homelessness if they do it again, Samuelson said.

“We talked about maybe we’ll make it a yearly event. It’s a continued discussion,” he said. “Everything starts as a conversation. When caring people get together then solutions happen.”

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491, adaybert@heraldnet.com.