matt frazee outside

Out in the Cold

National Life has been a long-time sponsor of the annual “Sleep Out” fundraising event for Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington, Vermont which helps youth facing homelessness and other crises. Volunteers have traditionally camped outside at the end of March on Church Street in downtown Burlington to help raise money, awareness, and to demonstrate the challenges that the homeless youth face.

2020 marks the 9th anniversary of the annual Spectrum “Sleep Out” and by far the most unusual adaptation in the history of the event. With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Spectrum shifted this year’s Sleep Out fundraiser to a “Virtual Sleep Out” and encouraged participants to sleep outside of their homes rather than gathering on Church Street to prevent potential spread of the virus. Among the volunteers was National Life Senior Vice President, Matt Frazee who is an active volunteer and member of Spectrum’s board of directors. 

We were able to talk to Matt about his experience and how the virtual aspect of this year’s fundraiser differed from the communal sleepout of years past. Here is his story:

As I slept outside during this year’s virtual fundraiser, I was struck most by two things. 

#1) I’ve done this “Sleep Out” for eight years, and I am always amazed by the severity of discomfort that comes by sleeping outside for one night in the heart of a Vermont winter while having access to the comforts of my own thermal gear. It highlights the privilege that my fellow volunteers and I share in getting to prepare for a night out like this. The experience provides the perspective of drastic contrast to what homeless teens face when they are likely without access to basic resources like shelter, sleeping bags, a pillow, warm clothes or other necessities.   

With two teenagers myself, the thought of young adults and teens out on the streets, without access to food, shelter or most of all human connection with a loving place to feel safe, is almost too much for me to handle.

#2) Is putting homelessness in the context of the current COVID-19 Pandemic.  A lot of what we hear on the news right now is in regard to the mental health aspects of our current isolation and the growing importance of self-care. Many of us are starting to feel the effects of being stuck inside at home, even when the environment is full of loved ones or where there is access to click into a zoom conference to share a happy hour cocktail or virtual game with a friend online. On the flip side, think about mental health of those who are homeless. There is no “shelter at home” for them.  They are stuck outside with nowhere to call home, no community or safe haven of acceptance in addition to living without the basic sustainable needs of food and clean water. This type of isolation is devasting to the mental health of homeless youth as they are developing.  As humans, we are hard wired for connection. That’s why the work of Spectrum is so crucial to help raise awareness and funding to support those who are struggling without a place to call home.

As I mentioned, I’ve done this sleepout before, collectively with 80-100 other people gathered on Church Street. Participating independently this year was different, raw, and eye opening.  Yeah, I was on my front porch, with just a door between me and a warm house and loving family, but it brought the heightened state of isolation to a new level. I am on the Board of Spectrum because I believe strongly in what they are doing for families and youth in the State of Vermont. This year, we were able to raise nearly $300,000 during our “virtual sleep out” to support and aid the homeless community of young adults in Vermont.  

If you know of a young adult who is struggling with homelessness or if you would like to get more involved, please reach out to Spectrum Youth and Family Services directly at 802-864-7423 or visit their website for more information.  If you’re looking for national resources about homelessness, visit the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Stay healthy and stay safe and find a way to support those in your community who need help.