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"Night without a roof" - Calling Attention to Homeless Adolescents


Senior Fellow Petra Rietberg was inspired by the “Night without a Roof” events organized by Tear Netherlands, a Dutch NGO focused on eradicating poverty in developing countries. “Night Without a Roof” encourages people to experience a night of sleeping on the streets in order to raise awareness – and donations – for homeless youth in South America. Petra wondered if there were any similar issues with homeless youth (zwerfjongeren) in the Netherlands. She was dismayed to discover that there are about 9,000 homeless youngsters (aged 16-23) in the country.

Night without a roof

Petra thinks that, “This is a hidden problem, many people do not know there are homeless adolescents in the Netherlands, too.”

Night without a roofWanting to bring attention to the problem of homeless youth in the Netherlands, Petra decided to organize her own “Night without a Roof” event. Petra began by working with the Dutch Humanity in Action Senior Fellow network to organize a dinner discussion for Dutch Senior Fellows. Also in attendance at the dinner were two inspirational speakers: Stephany-Joy, a former homeless youth and author of a book depicting her experiences living on the street, and Tasso Heijne, who works at Stichting Zwerfjongeren Nederland, an advocacy organization for homeless youth. The event also included a screening of a documentary about youth homelessness.

Petra then worked onorganizing her own “Night without a Roof” event. She coordinated with Senior Fellows Ayla Murad and Floor de Jong, as well as Stichting Zwerfjongeren Nederland. Stichting Zwerfjongeren Nederland enthusiastically supported Petra’s project, and advertised the event on its website. In addition, Petra brainstormed with other Humanity in Action Fellows and friends to come up with clever ideas and search for ways to involve others.

Petra brought together a group of nine people who then spent the night on the street with nothing but some water to drink. Beginning at midnight, they spent a few hours building “houses” out of cardboard. This drew the attention of people walking by, and Petra and her group were able to engage them in conversations about homeless youth in the Netherlands.

“It was interesting to see how two worlds exist parallel to each other. There is the world of an audience going out, drinking beer, having fun, and that of those having nowhere to go, wandering around.”

The goal of this project was threefold. First, Petra wanted the participants to experience what it might be like to live on the street, without food, money, or a home to go to during the night.

Petra brought together a group of nine people who then spent the night on the street with nothing but some water to drink.

Second, she wanted to raise awareness about the issue of youth homelessness among the friends and family of the participants, as well as the general public. Third, Petra wanted to raise money for Stichting Zwerfjongeren Nederland. Throughout the night, Petra and her group documented their experience online.

When Petra first began thinking about how she would like to organize this event, she wanted to include a visit to a youth homeless shelter. However, the organization that ran the shelter was concerned that such a visit would compromise the privacy of the guests, so Petra was not able to incorporate this visit into the event. She advises others considering a similar project to take such concerns into consideration when planning their event.

Petra “wanted for us to be able to dive into the world of youth homelessness during the night.”

Petra’s event raised a grand total of $1,400, which included money that she and her group collected while they were spending the night on the street and money from family and friends who “sponsored” their night without a roof. Additionally, the Dutch Senior Fellow Network was willing to contribute to the remuneration of one of the speakers who came to the dinner discussion, and Snurk Beddengoed generously provided bed linen ‘Le Clochard’ for the participants to use during the night.