Residents in Alpharetta and Milton—and nationwide—can help raise awareness for homelessness through Covenant House Georgia's Sleep Out fundraising event, which will take place virtually April 24 starting at 8 p.m. Covenant House Georgia is a nonprofit organization that provides shelter, food and a variety of programs and services for homeless individuals ages 16 to 24 in the Greater Atlanta metro area.

The Sleep Out event is designed for participants to forgo typical sleeping standards to show solidarity with young homeless individuals, which can mean camping in the backyard, deciding to shut off the heater or sleeping without blankets for the evening, said Alie Redd, executive director for Covenant House Georgia. The virtual event tonight will feature family-friendly activities, videos and a livestream via Webex to keep everyone connected, Redd said.

"We're not asking people to emulate homelessness. We are asking people to, for one night, walk in the shoes of a young person experiencing homelessness, stand with them and let them know they are not alone," Redd said.

Covenant House typically hosts three in-person Sleep Out events each year, but not on a national scale, Redd said—and due to COVID-19, the organization's leaders decided to host a virtual event. She said those interested in participating can go online to to register for the event and start hosting their own fundraiser as part of the event. The livestream will begin at 8 p.m., and registered participants will receive a sample schedule with a timeline, activity ideas and videos of those who have experienced homelessness or those who volunteer with homeless individuals.

"As we have more people who are aware of this issue, they're more cognizant of what's happening," Redd said. "This helps really humanize what homelessness looks like, especially for young people, because it's not what people think homelessness looks like."

Redd said on average, more than 3,300 youth are experiencing homelessness in the Greater Atlanta area, about 40% of which identify within the LGBTQ+ community, who Redd said have been "bullied out of their homes" due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Another 40% have aged out of the foster care system and cannot find a job to be able to afford a home, she said.

"As the cost of housing skyrockets and affordable housing decreases, being able to earn a livable wage is particularly challenging, especially for young people. Then you've got those aging out of foster care, or being kicked out or bullied out of their homes for identifying within the LGBTQ+ community," Redd said. "These are just very complex issues that have led to homelessness, and it doesn't always look like the person begging on the street. It is a kid who goes to high school every day or a server at a restaurant you frequent, but you just don't know they have nowhere to go home to at night."