It rained during last year’s Sleep Out, so Paramount Pictures senior vice president Liza Pano was ready for some precipitation. This year, however, she wasn’t prepared for the wind to kick up at 2 a.m. on Nov. 22.
Pano had some cardboard and a sleeping bag, but she was still counting the hours until she could return to normalcy — away from the sirens, away from the elements. Then, she realized that when Covenant House California (CHC) kids used to sleep on the streets, they didn’t have a cozy home to return to.
“This is how they have to survive. You just don’t think about that a lot,” Pano said. “It puts a lot of things in perspective.”
The Paramount executive was among a host of individuals participating in Covenant House’s Second Annual Sleep Out, a nationwide event that raises awareness and money for Covenant House’s homeless youth and the programs the organization provides.
Pano said compared to last year, last week’s event was “very different” — or, in other words, much colder.
“You really don’t sleep well,” she said, adding that she officially awoke at 6 a.m., though she never technically slept. “There’s no getting comfortable on two pieces of cardboard and a sleeping bag.”
Pano has also forgot what it’s like sleeping on the streets of Hollywood, where emergency sirens break the silence throughout the evening.
“The streets are incredibly noisy in a way that you don’t really know,” she added.
Approximately 35 executives braved the cold alongside her, and several, such as Twentieth Century Fox co-president Paul Hanneman, went to work after the event. Pano said her boss allowed her a couple hours of actual sleep before she came in last Friday.
“I don’t think I could have done it because it was really a tough night,” she added.
The Sleep Out was a first for Patrick McCabe, CHC’s new executive director. He said helicopters were out all night, as were emergency vehicles. Covenant House’s Los Angeles location is near the Hollywood (101) Freeway, so cars could be heard in the distance all night, McCabe said.
“I learned how hard it is for these kids,” he said. “I could see getting severely exhausted in a very short period of time.”
McCabe said the event showed the hurdles that CHC youth, who are between 18 and 24 years old, have to endure. Many come from abusive backgrounds, and it’s usually a long road to come “all the way back” to a normal, healthy lifestyle, he said. McCabe spoke of success stories, like a CHC young person who is now a manager in training at Jiffy Lube.
“That’s a huge, huge success,” he added.
The executive director said the event provided a snapshot of what it’s like for the 58,000 people who sleep on streets of Los Angeles on any given night. He said approximately 5,000 to 7,000 of those individuals are between 18 and 24 years old, and about 5,000 are under 18.
“I think about every seat in Dodger Stadium with a homeless person in it,” McCabe said. “It’s a serious, serious issue.”
Before accepting the job at CHC, he had heard of the Sleep Out and wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of a group of well-to-do people sleeping on the ground. Now, McCabe has changed course.
“It’s quite amazing, really. It was a real interesting, kind of eye-opening experience for a lot of people here,” he added.
CHC raised approximately $330,000 during the event. Nationally, approximately $4 million was raised. Participants paid $5,000 for the “privilege” to sleep outdoors and raised money for the cause.
The Sleep Out was especially poignant given that it occurred one week prior to Thanksgiving, when CHC will host approximately 300 individuals — all the CHC youth and their supporters.
“It’s a big celebration,” McCabe said. “This time of year is very tough for our kids. They’ve all been abused. …The holidays are very difficult for them. We’ll do everything we can to make it right for them.”
The new executive director joined CHC six months ago, and described himself as a “recovering businessman.” He fills the role left vacant by George Lozano, who retired after working for Covenant House for 22 years. Lozano is still helping the organization in various ways.
McCabe said he grew up in Cheviot Hills and worked in the cable TV business before working for an ad agency and then Cablevision. After meeting Crossroads founder Paul Cummins, he worked at New Roads Elementary School for 12 years.
Along the way, McCabe said he became involved with various organizations that deal with foster youth, social justice and homelessness. When the CHC position opened up, he expressed his interest.
“This is a population I’ve always wanted to work with,” McCabe said. “It’s fabulous. The kids are fantastic, and the staff is as dedicated a group of people as I’ve ever seen.”
CHC hosts 120 homeless youth and provides them with a myriad of services, such as healthcare, education programs, drug and alcohol programs, and more.
“We take these kids in and kind of reboot them,” McCabe said.
Pano said the youth are very appreciative of the services they receive. During the Sleep Out, the executives received presentations from some CHC youth and alumni. The young people also helped the executives get set up for a night on the street.
“I just can’t say enough about these kids and how hard they work to change their lives … and how much Covenant House needs the support,” Pano said. “They’re so filled with joy with what Covenant House has done for them in changing their lives. …It’s just a joy to be around them.”
She said that if asked, she will be back on the street next year with cardboard and a sleeping bag, braving the wind and the sirens all over again.
“If they need me, I will absolutely be there without hesitation,” Pano added.
For information or to donate, visit www.covenanthousecalifornia.org.
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