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Lipscomb hosts local Sleep in the Square event for a global cause

On Dec. 7, Sleep in the Square will provide a unique outreach opportunity for students and community members, raising both funds and awareness for Nashville’s unhoused population.

Kalli Groce and May Hartness  | 

Photo of Lipscomb Bell Tower

Lipscomb students and Nashville community members realize there is a homelessness crisis in our nation and our city, and this Dec. 7, they have a chance to do something about it: sleep on it. 
Sleep in the Square will take place from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Dec. 7. on the Lipscomb University Quad, located between Beaman Library and McFarland Science Center. The purpose of the event is not only to raise funds to support local charities that work with the unhoused population in Nashville, but also to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis in our world. Participants will listen to stories from those who have experienced homelessness firsthand, as well as hear from organizations in Nashville actively working with and for those who are unhoused. Speakers will share at various times from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. 
Anyone above the age of 18 is invited to participate in Sleep in the Square. Attendees can purchase a ticket online or at the event by donating at least $10. You can make a donation in any amount, and you can donate without actually attending the event. All funds raised from this evening will go toward organizations in Nashville actively helping the unhoused population, including Open Table Nashville, Green Street Church of Christ, The Contributor, We Are One, Nashville Rescue Mission, Souls United, and Shower the People. 
“The recent headlines broadcasting Nashville’s inability to reopen emergency shelters for the unhoused have struck a chord with many, specifically Nashville’s youth,” says May Hartness, the Lipscomb student coordinating the university’s sleep out.  
Though Sleep in the Square operates as an independent local event, the date of the sleep out correlates with The World’s Big Sleep Out, a worldwide movement to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis through sleep outs that take place in more than 60 cities around the globe. On Dec. 7, thousands will sleep outside in an attempt to raise awareness and catch the eye of both communities and political leaders. 
Lipscomb, a sponsor of the event, trains students to work compassionately, confidently and competently in their field of choice through a variety of service-learning courses and extracurricular programs, and the university instills the importance of service within its students. Another event sponsor, brokeboys., established by Lipscomb students in an entrepreneurship course, will collect clothes to donate to those in need.
Hartness first heard about The World’s Big Sleep Out when studying abroad in Lipscomb’s Vienna program in fall 2018. She wanted to bring the event to Nashville and sought advice from organizations in Nashville working to combat homelessness in the city.
“Every single person provided encouragement as well as an opportunity to learn, each offering support, advice and countless prayers,” she recalls. “Through partnership with nonprofits such as Open Table Nashville, Shower the People, Nashville Rescue Mission, We Are One, Souls United, Green Street Church and The Contributor, I have learned that we are remarkably stronger when we work together. We are often heard when we sing together rather than when we shout alone.”
Open Table Nashville and The Contributor are providing Sleep in the Square with speakers who will communicate their own experiences and encounters with homelessness. 

Participants can bring pillows, sleeping bags, blankets, snacks and anything they might need throughout the night excluding tents, campers, weapons, illegal drugs and any other substance that could be considered harmful. Restroom facilities will be available to sleepers, and hot coffee will be offered throughout the night. For more details, visit
“Most of us live in this city without any awareness at all of the hundreds, literally hundreds, of people who sleep outside every night right under our very noses,” notes Cathy Jennings, executive director at The Contributor Inc., a biweekly street newspaper published in Nashville to benefit programs for the homeless. “It is time to embrace our neighbors. Awareness and empathy are the first steps you can take.”
“This night creates an opportunity for community members to listen to the stories of those who have experienced homelessness firsthand and see what organizations are actively working to bring change to this intensifying problem,” says Hartness.
“On Dec. 7, every single person who shows up to this event will participate in something radical: learning the story of another human being,” she continues. “In a time when simply speaking to one another has become increasingly difficult, we invite folks to come into a space where they can get to know their neighbors, even neighbors who may not have homes.”

Putting Empathy Into Practice

Hartness was inspired to develop the Lipscomb event by an experience she had in a high school class. 
“During my senior year at Boyd Buchanan School in Chattanooga, Tenn., I took a government class with a teacher who inspired students to look beyond the theories of the classroom and add dimension to our learning,” she explains. 
“We decided that our final project would consist of a homeless simulation. For one day (and night), we packed our backpacks with all we could carry, turned off our phones when the school library closed, slept in the clothes we carried with us to school that day and slept outside on our school campus. A few teachers volunteered to provide a makeshift soup kitchen, and that was our dinner. During the night we also wrote our local government officials and detailed what we were doing that evening as an act of solidarity.”
She adds, “Throughout the course of the evening, we discussed the fact that our simulation was nowhere near what a night of homelessness actually looks and feels like, but we were determined to do more than simply sit in a classroom and talk about taking part in creative protest. We wanted to do more.”
Lipscomb strives to help its students develop servant hearts, and this event is a great opportunity to share that with the community. “The reason why I am sleeping out is to capture a glimpse of what one night is like for someone in this situation,” notes John Beasley, a senior studying exercise science at Lipscomb. “This is a tiny, uncomfortable step in the direction of learning more about our neighbors. This will be an amazing learning opportunity for our community.”
“It’s true, this evening will not solve homelessness, but it will combat apathy,” adds Hartness. “We will not fill the 12 hours we have on Dec. 7 with entertainment and distraction; we will instead feel the cold air on our skin and listen to the stories of our friends. We will sit and learn to empathize, participating in something that is both difficult and valuable. We will create space to hear voices that have gone unheard, and the rest will come.”
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