Homeless for One Night Will Change Everything You Think You Know

I spent one night sleeping on the streets of New York. But it did not compare to the experiences of children who do it every night.

Xerox Foundation president Mark Conlin: “We can give people the opportunity to become involved on a local level.”

Think about the toughest decisions you’ve ever had to make. Did you have to consider whether or not you would be more comfortable if you wore your overcoat to keep warm, or to ball it up so that you may rest your head on a makeshift pillow?

Or perhaps you had to figure out if prostitution would yield some scarce money that will get you by for another day or two.

The stories from the children who live on the street are just plain horrific. The reasons they became homeless are varied and tragic, but there’s a common thread: These children have nowhere to go, and no family to rely upon.

That’s why I – and 180 other business executives — spent the night of November 21 on the streets of New York with a piece of cardboard, a cheap sleeping bag, and the clothes on our backs. We did this to raise money for Covenant House, a non-profit network of shelters across the Americas that serve homeless youth. The night began with presentations by some of the youth who now live at Covenant House. They shared their stories of how they became homeless, and how they survived on the streets. After that, they sent us outside, and we bedded down not far from the Lincoln Tunnel. The noise from the traffic never let up, and the ground shook beneath us whenever a truck went by. The temperature started to drop at about 4 a.m., and it started to rain 30 minutes later. I managed to get some sleep, but I was grateful when they called us in at 5:30.

Our experience was for one night, and we did it with the sure knowledge that a warm home, a hot breakfast, and a loving family awaited us the next morning. So while my personal experience of the night was off the charts, it was nothing like what homeless kids go through day in and night out.

Before I took my current job with the Xerox Foundation, I spoke with former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, who is now chair of Save the Children. She told me that I should not under-estimate the learning curve needed for this type of job. Seven months in, I see that making a difference is at least as important as the giving of money. We can’t respond to all needs, but we can give people the opportunity to become involved on a local level. That’s an important way that we put Xerox’s philanthropic dollars to work in the places where we, and our people, are.

Last week, my group of “homeless executives” raised about $2 million, and we helped bring more eyes to the plight of homeless children. Multiply that across everyone who has ever gotten involved in their community, and you begin to see why philanthropy works.

Last week, I learned more than I thought I knew, which is why I’ll be back on streets for next year’s Sleep Out — and I plan to bring a few more Xerox people with me.

By Mark Conlin, president, Xerox Foundation, as told to Gregory Pings, manager, Content Marketing, Xerox.

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  1. Linda Emberley November 26, 2013 - Reply

    Mark, I commend you on walking the talk. I am a firm believer in making time in our lives to help others. It can be on a grand scale or at the grassroots level…kudos to you!

  2. Christa Carone November 27, 2013 - Reply

    Mark – You’re personifying the caring spirit of Xerox’s corporate character in an inspiring way. Thank you for opening our eyes and our hearts.

  3. Pamela Christensen November 28, 2013 - Reply

    I am a very proud ‘Xeroid’ reading this as our very own Managing Director of Fuji Xerox Australia, Nick Kugenthiran and some of the Executive Leadership Team also participate in the Australian equivalent, http://www.ceosleepout.org.au/

  4. Alexander Trout November 29, 2013 - Reply


    Wow, let me just say, my partner and I just came out of being homeless for five years. I found your story very touching, I believe the more you do this you will find out just how hard living on the streets truly is. Thank you for taking a huge step in helping people understand just how hard homelessness truly is. I think the thing that impresses me the most is that you are the President of Xerox and you were willing to put yourself in the shoes of these homeless youth or homeless people. Thank you very MUCH..

  5. Laurie Riedman December 2, 2013 - Reply

    Mark – What a great way to get in touch with the real needs of the homeless — thank you for your willingness to do this. I look forward to hearing more about how you’ll bridge the gap to help others by utilizing the Xerox Foundation.

  6. guy smith December 3, 2013 - Reply

    Mark – Thank you for opening our eyes and our hearts.

  7. Betty Wayman December 6, 2013 - Reply


    Your story makes me think. Now that you have been in the “shoes of the homeless,” do you have specific suggestions of ways people can help?

  8. gregpings December 10, 2013 - Reply

    (Response from Mark Conlin.)

    Betty, thanks for asking. I want to be sure you get a good answer, so I asked my friend, Creighton Drury, for help. (He’s also the executive director Covenant House.) Here’s his response:

    “I think it begins with becoming aware of the problem and what it means for so many kids. The NY Times Magazine this past weekend highlighted the story of Dasani, an 11 year old homeless girl and her family in New York City. There are 22,000 homeless kids in New York; 1 in 5 children are living in poverty across the country. What are the organizations serving homeless kids in your nearest city? Covenant House is a great place to start with “houses”/shelters in 22 locations across North and Central America (you can visit http://www.covenanthouse.org to learn more about where). Once you are aware, there are plenty of ways to support. Can you volunteer and serve a meal once a month? Can you help interview some 19 and 20 year olds and maybe offer them a job or internship? (about 75% of kids in Covenant House New York transitional living program have jobs and are doing well in them!) Can you contribute $25? There are lots of ways to get involved, and all ways make a difference.”

  9. Deborah Crowley December 11, 2013 - Reply

    This story is so incredible. I applaud you for taking the step to see what homeless families go through every day. Keep up the good work.

  10. Uday December 11, 2013 - Reply

    I am very proud to work at Xerox Services.

  11. Tamara Reid December 11, 2013 - Reply

    …there is power in self-sacrifice, and selflessness… I am proud to have joined such a fine team here at Xerox.

  12. Ron Schwartz December 12, 2013 - Reply

    Truly inspirational! Having personally particpated in many mid-night run programs, providing food and supplies to the NYC homeless, you have truly ‘walked the talk” thank you! Ron

  13. Cindy Johnston December 12, 2013 - Reply

    Mark –

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience. I look forward to learning more about how Xerox employees are getting involved and making a difference in their communities.

  14. Kenneth Castellane December 12, 2013 - Reply

    Mark – Very few times have I found myself speechless and I know you know this is true. I am speechless now. WOW this is truly the way to walk the walk and talk the talk. i would love to particapate in the next sleep out.

  15. Miklos Brown December 13, 2013 - Reply

    Mark, Your story reminded me of one of Xerox’ greatest assets –Our committment to Community Involvement. I also slept out overnight for the homeless on Nov 16 to support “Family Promise of Cobb County,GA” in their first annual “Tent City”. After 33 years working for Xerox, it reminded me of how much giving back and helping others should be our top priority.

  16. Mae Bryant December 13, 2013 - Reply

    Mr. Conlin, as to your participation in this year’s “Sleep Out”, let me say “Right On!”

  17. Derek Capre December 13, 2013 - Reply

    We were made to serve. Way to demonstrate it Mark!

  18. Shaniece Crawford December 20, 2013 - Reply


    This article was truly inspiring and eye opening.

  19. Mark J. Conlin Jr. January 9, 2014 - Reply

    Wow, just when I thought my idol, my role model and my life coach couldn’t get any cooler. Way to go Dad, I am so proud to call you my father!!!!!

  20. Michell Butler February 5, 2014 - Reply

    All the comments are excellent! Great ministry/work Mr. Conlin. The most touching comments is from your son! Outstanding Mr. Conlin to be that example! I’m touched and humbled!

  21. vitamins actually work May 1, 2014 - Reply

    This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something
    which helped me. Cheers!

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