TYLER, TX (KLTV) – My "One Night without a Home Experience" ended Wednesday morning, and after a hot shower and hearty breakfast I felt better than ever.
The event kicked off Tuesday night at the Salvation Army and I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous. I've spent many a night under the stars growing up in Boy Scouts, but this being my first quasi homeless experience, I was curious to see how sleeping close to 200 plus people would turn out.
Any awkward stranger moments were immediately dismissed once we embarked on our journey from the Salvation Army to Bergfeld Park. I wasn't able to travel the entire distance with the group (I had to play reporter for a few minutes and get some video footage) but on the trek down to the park I noticed an immediate sense of camaraderie come over the group. People of all ages and of all backgrounds mingled and talked amongst themselves about the coming night and the best strategies to stay warm come nightfall.
The event's momentum carried into the activities at the park. Participants grabbed seats in Bergfeld's amphitheater and listened as several speakers took the stage, sharing their heart on the topic of homelessness. Perspective and reality hit hard when individuals described their fall down the slippery slope of homelessness.
The temperature continued to drop but spirits remained high as the night progressed. As the clock struck 10 a couple hundred East Texans scoured the park looking for the best place to stay warm for the night. I had several spots in mind, but by the time I finished up with the live shot at 10p.m. a few folks beat me to the punch and snagged some prime park real estate. I didn't lose heart but headed to the base of what I think was a Dogwood Tree and set up my sleeping quarters. Consisting of a sleeping bag, camping pad, and an emergency blanket, it wasn't much, however, I was confident it would get me through the night just fine (to see my sleeping arrangement and what it takes to make it through a forty degree night click the video above).
I crawled into my bag armed with gloves, a beanie, and several layers of clothes (the secret to staying warm). Tired as I was, sleep didn't come quickly as traffic on Broadway continued well into the night with more than a few motorcycles feeling the need to rev the engine right as they passed the park…thanks guys. At some point close to midnight I dozed off and enjoyed a few hours of sleep. I came to just a couple times during the night and can honestly say the ground is surprisingly soft at the park, pad or no pad.
Afraid of sleeping late and looking like I just slept in a city park for my morning live shot, my internal wake up clock kicked in again about a quarter to five - good timing since breakfast was to be served at five. The Salvation Army Canteen had set up on the other side of the park so I hiked over to the smell of fresh coffee and oatmeal. A cold body was quickly warmed with a hot cup of joe and a bowl of my grandfather's favorite breakfast. The morning after meal brought the sense of camaraderie back stronger than ever with everyone sharing stories from the chilly night.
Live shots for Good Morning East Texas were coming up so I headed back to the live truck and watched the wrap up ceremony from the top of the amphitheater. The participants huddled together to stay warm as Smith County Coalition for the Homeless President Christina Fulsom shared a few words of encouragement and thanks for their sacrifice. They soon disbanded and headed back to homes with hot showers and working heaters, but the impact was made. A couple hundred brave East Texans endured cold weather, a lack of privacy, and even less shelter to get a taste if just for one night, of a life less fortunate than their own.
I commend those folks who didn't just learn more about homelessness, but lived it.