Community members experience night of homelessness in Syracuse Sleep-Out

Over 40 people slept outside as part of the Syracuse Homeless Challenge in an effort to raise awareness of hunger and homelessness in Central New York.

It’s that time of year to reflect on all things to be thankful for, and for 40 Syracuse residents that reflecting took place under multiple layers with chattering teeth and violent shivers. Community members spent Friday night in the subzero temperatures Syracuse is all too famous for, and as the biting cold managed to sting through the most durable winter gear, residents were able to catch a small glimpse of what it’s like to be homeless in Syracuse.

"Homelessness, the title in and of itself, it’s a difficult thing to wrestle with."
- Melissa Marrone

Kate Waltman, an intern at the Syracuse Rescue Mission, braved the cold with fellow co-workers as well as a few homeless individuals she had met at the Mission.

“Personally I know individuals who are homeless and this is something they experience on a regular basis. We have a few of those folks with us tonight and I think that makes a big difference for those here for the first time, it’s a great eye-opening experience,” Waltman said.

The challenge to sleep out-all night comes at the end of the National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week. CEO of the Syracuse Rescue Mission, Alan Thornton said people not only get a taste of any typical, cold night, but also “learn how to make a difference in the life of someone that could really use the help.”

And the help is needed. On any given night, 500 people occupy the shelters in the city of Syracuse. Melissa Marrone, coordinator of the Housing and Homeless Coalition in Syracuse, said many of those shelters are now full. In response, about 35 to 50 people have been moved to hotel rooms.

“It’s pretty dire right now, and we need more housing and more funding to be able to allow people to remain in their housing and support systems,” Marrone said.

While outside, residents could feel the icy temperatures, but something they couldn’t feel is the stigma attached to homelessness. “I think there is a lot of people who are homeless who don’t admit the fact that they’re homeless…because homelessness the title in and of itself, it’s a difficult thing to wrestle with,” Marrone said. 

The Sleep-Out is the third rung of the Syracuse Homeless Challenge. (Photo: Sarah Brechbill)

At the same time, sleep-outs were also going on in Binghamton and Ithaca.

Together, Thornton predicted over 100 Central New Yorkers would be participating in sleep-outs that evening.

As country music played in the background and residents poked at the fire, there wasn’t much else to do with the night…aside from experiencing the chills.

“It is a lot of being here and being present,” explained Thornton.

But after “walking a mile in their shoes,” Thornton said, “hopefully people will be able to understand and find ways to reach out and show their support.” He said whether donating your time, money, clothes, food or whatever it may be, the Rescue Mission needs the community’s help in order to reduce and end homelessness.   

With rosy cheeks, and a few shivers, Waltman explained, “the holiday season is such a crucial time here at the Rescue mission, so I think this event is perfect timing to start to get individuals in the community thinking about homelessness and know that it is a reality here in Syracuse.”

To learn how you can help make a difference in fighting hunger and homelessness, visit the Rescue Mission’s website at

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