No matter how bad of a day you have, most people can head to their safe and cozy bed and get some restorative sleep. Except if you can’t. Bed Poverty is typically defined as not having a safe bed of your own to sleep in. According to Barnardo’s, a UK charity whose mission is to help vulnerable children, it can include sleeping on the floor, having to share a bed because additional beds can’t be purchased, or broken or unsuitable beds because the expense to replace them can’t be afforded. While often this happens due to homelessness, it’s not always the case.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund, more than 1.5 million children were unhoused during their 2017-2018 school year. In a Harvard study, it was found that people of color and their families were the most heavily affected by evictions due to the country’s high rental costs and low incomes. It’s not just about getting a good night’s sleep — that sleep is essential for overall physical and mental health and wellness, compounding the issue.
For example, in one study, researchers concluded that people in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods impacted sleep duration for various subgroups. Another study pointed to lower neighborhood safety as a reason that kids in lower socioeconomic groups had more sleep issues, including frequent night waking and then daytime sleepiness.
But, like with any major challenge or systemic issue, there are heroes among us working on solutions. It’s a layered issue, and not just about beds, but about full wrap-around services for unhoused people. Here are a few who are on a mission to make sure everyone has a safe bed of their own to sleep in.
A Bed for Every Child
For Massachusetts-based organization A Bed for Every Child, having a bed should not be a luxury but a basic need for growing children. Since 2012, the organization has supported nearly 15,000 children with new beds, completely free of charge. Through collaboration with educational, healthcare, and community organizations, they identify families whose children need beds. They are then able to partner with businesses, educational institutions, and faith-based groups to build the beds through their Build a Bed Project.
In Massachusetts, over 300,000 children live in a household burdened with high housing costs, with many of them trying to rest on floors, couches, and in conditions that are negatively impacting their health. For A Bed for Every Child, the urgency to help those impacted by rising living costs is obvious. They receive on average 200 requests for beds each month, and a staggering one-third of these pleas involve children who have no choice but to sleep on the floor.
“We’re committed to the simple yet powerful belief that a good night’s sleep is critical for learning,” said Tina Baptista, A Bed for Every Child program director. “By ensuring that these students can rest well at night, we’re not just providing a bed—we’re supporting their journey towards educational success and offering them the tools to build a brighter future.”
Those they’ve helped
Darren, age 9, has been in a battle with severe asthma that often landed him in the hospital. Instead of school, he’d spend his days doing breathing treatments, causing him to fall behind. The old mattress he slept on on the floor only made his asthma worse. A concerned physician contacted A Bed for Every Child, making the connection between Darren’s frequent hospital stays and his poor sleeping arrangement. A Bed for Every Child provided Darren with a new bed—a simple change that has made it possible for him to once again regularly attend school and improve his overall health.
One House at a Time (OHAAT)
One House at a Time (OHAAT) is a Philadelphia-based organization that believes no child should sleep on the floor. All of the families OHAAT serves are living at or below the poverty level and are working to rebuild their lives for their families.
OHAAT was originally founded in 1998 in Ambler, Penn., as a furniture bank for low-income fire and flood victims. As the organization grew and evolved, it became a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and established a supplementary program called Beds For Kids. In 2011, OHAAT turned their main focus to providing beds for children in need through the Beds For Kids program. They have delivered over 15,000 beds over their 25 years to children through their referral partners. But they don’t stop there. OHAAT also works to provide resources to program participants to establish healthy bedtime routines and supply information to prevent and treat bed bug infestations. In addition to a memory foam mattress, each child also receives a bed frame, sheets, blanket, pillow, toothbrush, age-appropriate book, and a stuffed animal.
“Every child that OHAAT serves is facing chronic stressors that come with living in poverty,” said Marianne Watson, Development & Communications Coordinator. “Having a soft and warm place of their own to sleep every night brings both comfort and consistency.”
Those they’ve helped
“We are just super grateful for the beds, getting them during such a tough time mentally and financially. They provided so much more than we expected, all the items the girls need to make them feel comfortable. Without Beds for Kids, they’d still be sleeping on the floor. It’s a beautiful thing you all are doing. Thank you so much.” — A message to the organization from Parents of Beds for Kids program recipients
“When I told the parents about your organization–you could see the impact in their faces: relief, joy and gratitude.” Social Worker/Referral Partner
Covenant House California
Covenant House California is a nonprofit organization in the Los Angeles area that provides supportive services for 18 to 24-year-olds who are overcoming homelessness & human trafficking. Since its establishment over 37 years ago, the organization has served hundreds of thousands of young people and in this past year, Covenant House California provided 83,329 nights of safe sleep for young people in need, they said.
The parent organization, Covenant House, was founded in 1972 by a Franciscan priest due to the growing number of youth living on the streets in New York City. Since that time, it has expanded across five countries. Covenant House California was established in 1988 in Los Angeles and has since expanded its services across five counties in California. Through the organization’s coordinated care systems and school and community referrals, youth in the area can be guaranteed a safe space to sleep.
“Homelessness and poverty put youth at risk for abuse, trafficking, and physical, mental, and emotional harm,” said Heather Flynn, Senior Vice President of Development & Administration at Covenant House California. “Places with severe poverty and high-income inequality often have the highest rates of youth homelessness. This is especially true when you consider all forms of youth homelessness, including couch surfing, unstable housing, family shelters, and living on the streets. Poverty leads to significant downturns in child welfare, with increases in the levels of physical and mental illnesses brought on by poor nutrition and living conditions.”
Those they’ve helped
The youth that Covenant House California serves reports that when they move into their new bed at CC, it’s usually the first time they’ve had a bed of their own.
“When I finally had a bed, and they were providing me with food, and helping me get a job, and save my money, I was like, ‘I know where I’ve been … that’s when the goals started popping up.” –Covenant House California alumni
Sleep in Heavenly Peace
As a national 501(c)3 charity, Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) has individual chapters all across the United States and Canada. In total, there are 295 SHP chapters, and these chapters are responsible for building and delivering beds to children who are often sleeping on the floor in their communities. Since its beginning in 2012, SHP has built over 186,000 beds for those affected by bed poverty. For those needing assistance, there are no financial requirements and children between the ages of 3 and 17 simply need to live in the zip code of one of the chapters.
“We often meet family members or foster parents that have stepped up to help children in need, but lack the disposable income to purchase beds,” said Jennifer Droukas, Build Day Coordinator at the Las Vegas chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace. “Through this organization, we’ve learned that bed poverty can unexpectedly impact anyone.”
Those they’ve helped
Sleep in Heavenly Peace is often told their services are viewed as a true blessing. The children often indicate the beds provided by Sleep in Heavenly Peace are the first bed they’ve ever owned. Droukas recalls a little boy whose father had been killed in a shooting and whose brother had become the “man of the house”. When the boy’s bed was delivered, he exclaimed “This is the best day ever!”
Project HomeAgain is an organization in Broward County, Fla. that helps to build landlord capacity for the county’s Homeless Continuum of Care (HCoC), a network of providers whose mission is to keep homelessness brief. By recruiting landlords and providing incentives to work with HCoC, the organization works to provide a housing solution for homeless individuals and families who would otherwise have nowhere to call home. To date, 147 new landlords have joined the effort and have helped house individuals or families who are homeless and living on the streets.
“Broward HCoC has set a path to end homelessness in Broward County by focusing its resource needs on the provision of quality best-practice housing-focused programs, supportive services, and employment services,” said Rebecca McGuire, Strategic Housing and Innovations Officer with Broward County’s Housing Options Solutions and Supports (H.O.S.S.) Department. “Project HomeAgain is one of those programs. By recruiting landlords and securing available housing units, Project HomeAgain works to provide a housing solution for homeless individuals and families who would otherwise have nowhere to call home.”
Those they’ve helped
A recent tenant of Project HomeAgain, said, “There are no words to express how it feels to have a home. It’s indescribable. The weight lifted, while I get back on my feet, is such a gift.”