As the clock struck 7 p.m. on Nov. 15, USC Chief Information Security Officer Gus Anagnos, USC Director of Finance and Accounting Laura Ponder and eight other executives arrived at the Los Angeles location of Covenant House California, ready to spend the night in a parking lot.
They joined over 100 other individuals at Covenant House California, a nonprofit shelter that provides support and services to young homeless individuals, to sleep outside in solidarity with homeless youth.
Over 550,000 people face homelessness every day in the United States, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Los Angeles County alone has nearly 5,000 homeless youth, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Anagnos, who also serves on the Covenant House California Board of Directors, was responsible for getting them involved.
“Gus’s courage is contagious,” Ponder said. “He invited us to join the Covenant House to sleep out in solidarity with youth experiencing homelessness.”
The event, held annually by Covenant House California, is intended to fundraise for homeless young people. Participants fundraise before the event and then sleep out in solidarity “so homeless youth don’t have to,” Covenant House California Board Chair Paul Hanneman said.
On Thursday night, participants laid out sleeping bags in the parking lot. After sleeping out on the pavement with the other 30 teams, USC executives said they found the experience humbling.
“There [were] a couple times where I was so uncomfortable, I wanted to go home,” said Sandra Taylor, USC’s information security governance and risk management director. “But if you’re actually [homeless], you don’t get that opportunity.”
Covenant House raised over $150,000 more than it did last year in the California sleep outs. As of Sunday, over $800,000 was raised. USC alone contributed just over $30,000, surpassing their goal of $25,000.
The funds are expected to go toward increasing the number of beds in Covenant House shelters — just over 200 beds are offered in California. Covenant House California hopes to expand to 300 beds in the next three years and serve over 5,000 young people annually, according to CEO of Covenant House California’s Board of Directors Bill Bedrossian.
“[These homeless young people] are smart, they are beautiful [and] they have hopes and dreams,” Bedrossian said. “We get to be a catalyst to help them achieve those dreams.”
All of the USC participants attended the sleep out for the first time.
“This [was] the highlight of my week,” said Ponder, who raised $3,000.
During the sleep out, the executives went on a tour of the Los Angeles facility where the board members discussed the resources Covenant House offers to homeless youth. Alumni and current youth of Covenant House California shared their own stories about facing homelessness and how Covenant House California helped them grow and thrive.
Many of the USC executives found the experience humbling.
“We were able to experience [homeless youth’s] testimony. It’s incredible,” said USC Facilities Human Resources Director Interim Ana Zavaleta. “We’re so blinded [about] what can actually happen, so I’m just really grateful.”
Anagnos said he wants to stay involved with Covenant House California and future fundraisers and hopes to connect with more homeless students to match them with resources.
“I never want to sleep out on the street again, because that was the most uncomfortable experience,” Anagnos said. “It was a pretty amazing experience and I’m hopeful that we’re going to end this.”
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