Fulton County Judge Sleeps Under the Stars

“I’m not smart enough to be homeless.” That’s how Chief Judge Cynthia Wright, Superior Court, Atlanta Judicial Circuit, begins her discussion of her night sleeping on the streets of Atlanta last November.
 
altOn November 15, 2012, business leaders and executives across the country, Canada, and Mexico joined local chapters of Covenant House for the Sleep Out to Support Homeless Youth, a fund raising event to bring awareness and support for homeless kids.
 
Judge Wright (left, photo courtesy of Fulton County Superior Court) joined in a candlelight vigil at Centennial Olympic Park before traveling to the Covenant House’s new facility on Johnson Road in Atlanta.  Once there, the participants broke into groups for dinner and a tour of the facility.  Homeless teens spoke about how their home situations lead them to life on the streets.  Some were abused or molested, others felt unloved or were rejected by their families. Some were foster children who had aged out of the system.
 
Once it was time to go outside, the participants placed cardboard underneath their sleeping bags.  Judge Wright explains, “the cardboard acts as a moisture barrier and a temperature regulator.”   There wasn’t much sleep that night.  It was cold, the sound of trains kept many awake, and the sleeping bags didn’t offer much in the way of comfort. “It was a long night, with maybe 45 minutes of sleep.  I went home at around 5:30 a.m. and got ready for my day,” she remembers. “I fell asleep in one meeting and gave what might be described as an uninspired presentation that afternoon.”
 
Why spend the night outside?  Understanding where people come from and showing them that the criminal justice system is far more complex than meting out punishment is an important aspect to the job of being a judge.  “I learned that girls are especially vulnerable at night.  Rather than sleep during the night hours, they might lie down in the bed of a pickup truck during the day.  That way, they are shielded from view and feel a measure of protection.”
 
altThe Covenant House Georgia currently operates a 15-bed crisis shelter with 10 more teens sleeping on mats.   Over 150 teens are on the waiting list for a bed at Covenant House.  The 2012 Sleep Out to Support Homeless Youth raised $79,532 for the Georgia chapter to help with the purchase and renovation of a facility that will host a 60-bed crisis facility and a 28-bed independent living facility.

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