NEW ORLEANS -- With temperatures in the 50s, dozens of community leaders are sleeping on the streets of New Orleans Thursday night, as part of a nationwide effort to help homeless youth.
For Elquisha Matheiu, a small room where she and her 3-year-old son can sleep is enough. Twenty-year-old Matheiu has been homeless for 5 years, moving from couch to couch and sleeping on the streets.
“Scary, depressing, lonely, feel like just giving up,” Matheiu said.
Finally, 3 weeks ago, she made her way to the Covenant house. “They’re going to help me get on the right track, and I’m not going to be homeless anymore.”
Thursday night, 85 community leaders will get a glimpse of what it’s like to be in Elquisha Matheiu’s shoes. They are sleeping on the street outside Covenant House with cardboard boxes and sleeping bags. The goal is to raise money for and awareness about homeless youth.
“We all should do our part to solve the problems of our society,” said James Gray, New Orleans City Councilman
“Even more importantly than raising money is to let the kids know that actually people care about them,” said Kevin Pollard, of Global Solve Management Services.
Myself and WWL- TV General Manager Tod Smith are among those sleeping out.
“I think we have a rare opportunity to share that message on a broader scale and understand that, yes, this is an issue we deal with on a daily basis, but there’s an organization like Covenant House that’s there to help,” Smith said.
The Covenant House has seen its numbers more than triple in the last two years, from 44 kids a night to 140, and it does much more than give these kids a place to sleep.
“The number one thing we’re doing is we’re filling these kids with respect and with dignity. We’re telling them that it is okay to hope and to dream,” said Jim Kelly, Covenant House executive director. That's with counseling, education and job placement.
Elquisha Matheiu got a job within a week. “I just got hired at the racetrack. I’m so excited.”
But more importantly, for the first time in her life, Elquisha Matheiu can say these words and mean them: “I’m loved. I do matter.”
And she says to see all these people out here and to know the community is behind her means the world.