By Tim Priester
Parkland resident Sheela VanHoose will go homeless for a night in a national fundraising campaign to bring awareness to America’s youth living on the streets.
On Thursday, November 19, VanHoose, who has lived with her husband and daughter in Parkland’s Cascata since 2018, will spend her second year joining others throughout Florida and the US in Covenant House’s national fundraising campaign Sleep Out to End Youth Homelessness.
Youth homelessness is a serious issue, and she wants to bring to light what some youth are facing nightly.
“I could not get warm no matter how many layers I had on,” she said of last year’s Sleep Out event, held in downtown Orlando outside the Exploria Stadium.
Through the cold, the sirens, the unforgiving concrete, and the fact that she spent the night away from loved ones, like her daughter and husband, VanHoose found solidarity with other volunteers packed in their sleeping bags who were getting a glimpse of what some homeless youth face nightly.
“Around 2 a.m. I came to a realization that no matter how uncomfortable I was, I knew I was safe; unfortunately, for so many homeless youths, that sense of security is not their reality,” she said.
Due to safety precautions, which are not offered to homeless youth, this year’s event will be held virtually.
VanHoose, advocates for the Southern Group, a lobbying firm for public, private, and nonprofits organizations. Before that, she held several political positions under former Governor Rick Scott and Senator George LeMieux.
She has an additional connection to the community. From 2014-2017, she was appointed to serve on the Board of Commissioners for the North Broward Hospital District. She later was the project lead for the SMART Initiative, a referendum for Broward County Public Schools.
This community focus led VanHoose to volunteer and now serve on the board of Covenant House Florida, which through street outreach programs, crisis shelters, and transitional housing, is one of the largest private agencies serving runaway and homeless youth in the Fort Lauderdale and Orlando areas.
Currently, Florida is ranked third in total homelessness and fourth in the United States for youth reported homelessness, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which utilizes statistics compiled by the United States Department of Education.
Sadly, during Florida’s 2018/2019 school year, more than 95,000 students, at some point, experienced some type of homelessness.
“The Sleep Out is not about pretending to be homeless,” VanHoose said of the annual event. “It’s a message that we are sending to the 4.2 million kids who experience homelessness each year that they are not in this alone.”
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