Group sleeps outside to experience homelessness

Mission Change prepared for the Sleep Out by building boxes for people to sleep in overnight / Sarah Bleau

Johnathon Collins â" once homeless five months ago -- is no stranger to sleeping outside.

"The park, the streets, where ever I could sleep at," says Collins.

He spoke to those participating in Mission Change's fourth annual Hope for the Hungry and Homeless Sleep Out about his experiences and the realities of being homeless in Albany.

"Out here being homeless, it's cold now -- you all know how cold it is -- and it's not a place for anybody. People get hurt all the time," says Collins.

Sleeping outside in 30-degree temperatures during winter is common for those who are homeless, and it's an experience that Todd Urick, one of the organizers of Mission Change, says truly impacts people the night after the Sleep Out.

"Tomorrow night when they're in the comfort of their home is when it really hits like, 'Wow. I'm able to have this house and warm bed while there's others that are still on the street,'" he says.

He says Mission Change's Sleep Out was established after talking with people in the homeless community who told him they felt stereotyped and after learning many in Albany were unaware of the homeless problem in the city.

"Talking to people they didn't think Albany had a homeless problem. This was our way of basically raising awareness saying hey one night we're going to sleep out one night for those who sleep out every night," says Urick.

Another testimonial speaker at the Sleep Out says 90 percent of those who are homeless are so because of the economy and are trying to get out of their situation. Collins says with hard work and persistence those people can get out of their situation just like he did.

"By the grace of God I'm not only came out of being homeless but to be in my own apartment now," he says.

Within an hour at their location at the Albany Mall, Mission Change raised $500. The donations will go on to directly benefit local organizations involved in ending local homelessness.