12-year-old homelessness activist is invited to testify in DC
Tiernan Cabot, a young Baha’i in South Windsor, Connecticut, has been invited to the nation’s capital by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to lend his voice to efforts in Congress to tackle homelessness.
It’s a prospect that even at age 12 the founder of Hartford Bags of Love takes in stride. For three years that organization has collected and distributed personal care items for the homeless.
After all, on Oct. 30 he testified alongside public officials and CEOs at a legislative hearing in Hartford, where former South Windsor Mayor Saud Anwar serves as chair of the state Senate Housing Committee.
“I mean, it’s always nerve-wracking. But it doesn’t faze me that much anymore because I realize it’s not about me,” says Tiernan. “Trying to make a difference is what’s important. I’m just excited, honestly, and I’m just so grateful for the opportunity.”
Blumenthal, Anwar and current Mayor Andrew Paterna were among the nearly 30 people — some of them once homeless — who spent the evening of Nov. 3 in a South Windsor park discussing how to ensure that everyone in the Hartford area has stable housing.
“The children shall lead you,” Blumenthal noted in his remarks. “And the way Tiernan is leading tonight and the way he has led … is with love. If there is a common cause here it is love.
“I’ve learned a lot just by your story and what you’ve done,” the U.S. senator told Tiernan before the assemblage. “And nobody should doubt, ever, that one person can make a difference.”
About two dozen attendees stayed to sleep outdoors that frigid night in early November. Tiernan’s dad, Mark, and brother, Aakhil, 7, were among those who joined Tiernan. Mom Renu and baby sister Anjali lent support before heading for the warmth of home.
The next morning, many of the participants drove into Hartford, some 10 miles away, to donate their sleeping bags and other items to homeless people they encountered.
In Tiernan’s eyes, the sleep-out succeeded in focusing new attention on homelessness.
“We were successful in getting people there,” he says. “And even people who were watching on the news at home” — the event was covered by print and electronic media — “we were successful in helping them understand a little more.”
But as cold as it was — temperatures dropped to 31 degrees — “It was only one night, and there are people who have to go through that every single night,” notes Tiernan.
“We’re not trying to say, ‘Oh yeah, I know what it’s like to be homeless.’ We’re just trying to give [people] a sense of empathy so that they can at least understand and maybe identify” with those in that situation.
“A lot of people say it’s not me so it’s not my problem,” says Tiernan. “But the thing is, we are all humans. We are all one family.
“So as family members we have to stick by each other and help out when we’re in need, which is the basis of what Hartford Bags of Love is.”
And what the organization does can be replicated by anyone, he says.
“Just bringing a lunch to one person can make such a difference. We have the solutions. We just need to put our time, our hearts and our money into it.
“People do think [the problem is] too big, but it’s really not.”