By Devaan Ingraham
As the clock struck 1 a.m. the steady rustling of tarps was a dead giveaway that the silent camp in the shadow of city hall was far from asleep.
Participants of the fifth-annual Sleep Out! So Others Can Sleep In, a fundraiser for the Hastings and Prince Edward Branch Canadian Mental Health Association, hunkered down in Market Square from Friday night to Saturday morning. The good news for these “homeless” is that in another few hours they would return to their cozy beds while others in Belleville are not as lucky.
The event, which had already raised $11, 150 on the day of the event alone, was created as a means to raise funds to maintain the three transitional homes offering temporary housing to those in need in the Belleville area.
Participants registered with the CMHA and collected pledges from the community to support their effort.
Nancy Smith, a director of the CMHA branch, said that although the organization was able to offer temporary housing to nearly 200 people between April 2010 and March 2011 they were forced to “turn away 432 people because the houses were full.”
Smith estimated 150 participants had come to the event in Market Square, including three city councillors who have become regular supporters of the event. Smith said she also admires the gusto of the young participants in the crowd, including an ambitious group of 34 from Albert College.
One of these students, Gregory Stevens, wandered around the camp sometime after 3 a.m. and took a minute to admire the “tent city” built by the female group from Albert College.
“They built a pretty big fort as well!” said Stevens.
Stevens, a fast-talking 13-year-old from Napanee, explained the technical difficulties he had with his dwelling.
“Some of our walls collapsed. I originally brought a refrigerator box, but I gave it to someone else because they didn’t have anything.”
Stevens and several other participants agreed their main reason for attending the event was to better help them empathize with those less fortunate in their community.
“It was just to get a feeling of what it was like for someone else, to be in their shoes and understand what they go through every night.”
With help from his sister, Stevens managed to raise more than $200 as his contribution to the event’s grand total.
But as Stevens, who later abandoned all plans of actually sleeping, climbed back into his shelter, a quiet voice emerged from the heart of Albert College’s “tent city”.
“I can’t feel anything right now … I’m so cold …”
Come sunrise, the nameless victim of the chill and his fellow sleepers won’t be the only ones left out in the cold on these frigid nights. When the tarps were folded and the cardboard made its way to the recycling bins, some of Belleville’s residents will be forced to take to the streets. Their pledges will not be made to sheets, but rather to their hats or cups as they wait out the cold in cardboard boxes they call “home.”
Further donations can be forwarded to: The Canadian Mental Health Association 199 Front St., Suite 530, Belleville, Ont. K8N 5H5 (613) 969-8874