Camping For A Cause: Shelter Hosts Sleep-Out to Combat Homelessness

By Hye-Jin Kim

It’s no surprise there’s little overlap between winter-camping enthusiasts and Addison County’s homeless. In our own community, there are those who will have no choice but to spend at least one frigid night outside this winter. While most of us are fortunate enough to lack first-hand experience, sleeping outside frankly sucks (unless there’s a $200 sub-zero sleeping bag involved).

Though homelessness in Addison County is not as obvious and visible an issue as it is in urban cities, the figures on rural poverty are troubling. According to the John Graham Shelter website, there has been a 54 percent increase in childhood homelessness in Vermont – the number of children rising from 785 in 2009 to over 1,400 this year. More than 3,000 Vermont households were homeless and reliant on emergency shelters in 2014.

In order to raise awareness and collect donations for Addison County’s homeless, the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes is hosting its second annual sleep-out on Saturday, Dec. 5 at the foot of Otter Creek Falls near Marbleworks. For those willing to sleep outside, albeit more comfortably than those who are homeless, it is an opportunity to raise awareness and collect supplies for those afflicted by rural poverty.

“The shock value of having to sleep in the cold can bolster people to action,” said Dan Adamek ’18, who currently serves on the John Graham Shelter’s Board of Directors. “And sleeping outside is not just about physically facing the elements. There’s the psychological fear of not having a safe, warm place to rest one’s head at night.”

Participants from last year’s “Sleep-Out to End Homelessness” raised over $30,000 for the John Graham Shelter – enough to purchase a transitional housing unit. The event will begin at 4 p.m. with a candlelight vigil, followed by a light supper at St. Steven’s Episcopal Church. Sleep-out participants are asked to bring a bag of food, a box of diapers, toiletries, hygiene products, cleaning supplies and a new quilt or set of sheets for the John Graham Shelter.

In the sleep-out’s inaugural year, 40 participants raised over $30,000.

The money was used to buy a transitional housing unit for homeless members of Addison County before they can be placed in a permanent home. One of the residents of the housing unit had been homeless for over eight years.

“We’re facing an unprecedented wait-list for people who want to get into homes,” Adamek said. He blamed stagnant wages and rising living costs for the increased demand, noting that the “vast majority” of people at the shelter and in transitional housing were working at least part-time.

As of Sunday, over $20,000 has been raised for the John Graham Shelter. Adamek said this year’s goal is to raise $30,000. So far, teams from the Porter Hospital nurses’ union, the Walden Project at Vergennes Union High School, and the College have all signed up for the event.

Charlie Mitchell ’18 decided to attend the sleep-out after volunteering at the Charter House in town. “I’ve witnessed that struggle [of homelessness],” he said. “I’m signing up to have that conversation.”

The John Graham Shelter views homelessness as a community problem that requires a community solution.

“I’m there to raise my own awareness as much as anyone else’s with this experience,” Mitchell said. To donate, visit johngrahamshelter.org.

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