A night out in the cold raises awareness of homelessness

By Susan Mustapich | Nov 13, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich Teams that camped out on Camden's Village Green Nov. 9, and supporters, raised awareness of homelessness in the area, as well as funds for services that help.

CAMDEN — Tents and luminaries filled the Village Green in the center of downtown the night of Nov. 9 to help local people who are homeless find a place to call home.

The Knox County Homeless Coalition hosted the One Night Without a Home event, joining  with organizations nationwide. On the Village Green, 300 luminaries represented the number of people the coalition assists on a daily basis in Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties.

The 12 teams and individuals who slept in tents outside on the cold November night met the challenge of gathering pledges. Along with business sponsors, the teams raised more than $31,000 as of Nov. 13. The money goes to KCHC programs that find housing for those who need it, and services that help keep people in those homes.

Caroline Morong, a KCHC board member, camped out that night. Like everyone else who was spending the night on the Village Green, she was allowed to bring only what she could carry in one load.

"We felt that the Village Green was a great place to [raise] awareness and to share the plight of the homeless," she said. The requirement to bring only what one could carry in one load was intended to help participants empathize with those who live outdoors and have to carry their belongings.

When asked about the rain predicted for that evening, Morong said, "Every night when I see the storms and rain, I think about the number of people and the children who are living in a car or a box. I'm willing to forgo my warm bed to help educate about how you can lose your spouse and not be able to pay your rent, and pretty soon, you can be evicted. The education piece and ending the stigma of homelessness is really important to me."

When the idea came up more than a year ago, Morong wasn't sure she was comfortable with it. She changed her mind after learning that One Night Without a Home is a national event, embraced by organizations around the country that help the homeless.

Homeless people in rural Maine are not sleeping on park benches or in the streets; they are families with children and individuals who are couch surfing, living in cars and in places that are not habitable, like unheated sheds and campers, according to Becca Gildred, Knox County Homeless Coalition director of development. They are students in local schools and people who work, she said, and more than a third of the homeless here have more than a high school education.

Because people don't see the homeless, they may not realize that on any given day, KCHC is working with as many as 300 people who need homes and services, according to Gildred.

The number-one reason for homelessness in the area is the lack of affordable housing, Gildred said. Hospitality House, on Old County Road in Rockport, is a visible symbol of the Homeless Coalition's presence. Yet it can serve only five to 10 percent of the homeless population at any given time. Behind the house is a converted barn, which is where support services are provided.

Most people find the Homeless Coalition through word of mouth.

"They hear it is a good place to come to, and that other people have been helped," Gildred said.

At the Homeless Coalition, caseworkers help people "get on a lasting path to success," she said. They connect people with jobs, a food pantry on site to help with supplemental nutrition, some furniture for a new apartment, mental health services and transportation provided in vans and a vehicle owned by the organization.

Gildred said that once housing is found, the organization likes a family or individual to  stay connected to KCHC for about a year, to work on any issues that could lead to a return to homelessness.

The organization credits this holistic approach to homeless services as the reason for its "housing sustainability success rate, for those who complete our multi-year program inclusive of aftercare" of from 90 to 95 percent.

While nationwide, families with children make up about 30 percent of the homeless population, this group makes up about 60 percent of the homeless in the counties served by KCHC, according to Gildred. She believes the higher number may be because families know they will be helped, and are "not in fear that their children will be taken away from them if they report they are homeless," she said.

Local business sponsors for One Night Without a Home are Allen Agency, Camden National Bank, Camden Law, Camden Real Estate, The Bayview Collection of inns and hotels and Maine Sport, Mount Pleasant Dental Care, The Pursuit Church and Viking Lumber.

In-kind support came from the Camden Town Office, across from the Village Green, which opened to serve as a warming center, and the Chestnut Street Baptist Church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Camden Community Breakfast, Megunticook Market and Zoot Coffee.

For more information about the Knox County Homeless Coalition, call 593-8151, email info@homehelphope.org, visit the organization on Facebook, or write to P.O. Box 1696, Rockland, ME 04841.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 14, 2018 16:12

Kudos for the charity you give for those in need.

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