In the summer of 1988, Chris Henry, a homeless man, was riding the city subways when he noticed a flier advertising an annual “sleep out” protest to call attention to homelessness at City Hall Park. Henry decided he had nothing better to do so he headed over to St. Paul’s Chapel, where after enjoying a meal, he and about 400 people marched down Broadway towards City Hall Park.
Started in 1985, the sleep outs were intended to make a statement to then Mayor Ed Koch and City Council members about funding for the homeless. At some point, it started pouring, and the group whittled down to about 100, and then to only a dozen who stayed the night. For Henry, the experience was galvanizing. “That was the night I became an activist,” he said.
It didn’t end the way organizers thought it would. The sleep out was supposed to be for only one night. But, unsatisfied with the response they received in the morning from City Hall, the stalwarts who had slept in the park decided they would extend the camp out. Over the next 200 days, their encampment became a symbol of a growing crisis and what a New York Times story called “an eyesore and a political rotten egg for the Koch administration.”