Will Smith joins hundreds at outdoor Times Square homelessness fundraiser

Will Smith and World's Big Sleep Out Founder Josh Littlejohn onstage during The World's Big Sleep Out at Times Square on Dec. 7. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images for The World's Big Sleep Out)

With homelessness becoming an increasing crisis in the city and worldwide, New Yorkers on Saturday night raised money for the cause by sleeping outside in Times Square as part of the World’s Big Sleep Out, a global initiative.

Over 50 cities around the globe participated, and New York’s event was held in Times Square and included musical performances and an appearance by Will Smith.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the New York event, according to organizers, which was meant to show solidarity and support for homeless people. Worldwide, the initiative has raised over $10 million, and all of the funds from the NYC event go to UNICEF USA, which is the event’s national partner, along with local New York charities such as Robin Hood, Breaking Ground, The Ali Forney Center and the Coalition for the Homeless.

Fundraising participants prepare to sleep overnight during The World’s Big Sleep Out at Times Square. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for The World’s Big Sleep Out)

 

Participants stayed out in 30-degree temperatures and were treated to a show that was hosted by “Daily Show” correspondent and comedian Dulce Sloan, and included musical performances by soul duo The War and Treaty, and Jay Buchanan from the group Rival Sons.

The show was closed by Will Smith, who performed the classic theme song to “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and shared his eye-opening experiences getting to know the formerly homeless man Chris Gardner, whose story inspired the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Will Smith takes selfies with participants during the event. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images for The World’s Big Sleep Out)

Many officials were also at the event, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

“Having worked with homeless people for the last seven years, I know how invisible and forgotten people can feel,” said Josh Littlejohn, founder of The World’s Big Sleep Out. “What the incredible 60,000 people who slept out all over the world have done tonight is to shine the spotlight on this global issue and show that we care.

“I am truly blown away by the response to our campaign, in NYC and all over the world,” he added, “and am sincerely grateful to every single person who has given up their beds tonight to raise the funds and awareness needed to make an impact. I hope that what happened in this campaign demonstrates a clear mandate for political action to tackle the homelessness crisis in NYC and all over the planet.”

Fundraising participants sleep in sleeping bags during The World’s Big Sleep Out at Times Square. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for The World’s Big Sleep Out)

 

Homeless levels in NYC have reached levels not seen since the Great Depression, with more than 60,000 people staying in shelters, about a third of them children. And global levels have reached new highs, with over 100 million people homeless and displaced worldwide, according to the Institute of Global Homelessness.

All of the sleeping bags for Times Square participants were donated by Modell’s Sporting Goods. After their use Saturday, the bags are being donated to local charities.

Donations to the cause can still be made by going to bigsleepout.com.

Gabe Herman