By Alisa Howlett 
BELLEVILLE – Local residents will put themselves in the shoes of the homeless Friday night by sleeping outside in cardboard boxes.
The annual Sleep Out! So Others Can Sleep In event, organized by the Hastings and Prince Edward branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association , takes place in Market Square downtown, starting at 7 p.m. The event raises awareness and funds for issues surrounding local homelessness and mental health.
“We never say we’re duplicating what it’s like for someone to be on the streets for any given time, but what we do say is that we’re trying to give an awareness of what the challenges are,” said Sandie Sidsworth, executive director of the branch. “It’s not just a fundraiser – it’s an awareness raiser.”
All of the donations go toward repairs and maintenance for the three local transitional homes  that the association operates.
Around 2:30 a.m. Saturday participants will have the chance to learn about the challenges faced by the homeless through role-play. Volunteers will go through the motions of finding the resources they need after becoming homeless.
“When people have been struggling and when it’s been so hard to just find a place to get a good night’s sleep, let alone just some rest, how do you navigate bureaucracy? How do you fill out the forms? How do you have the ID that is necessary to prove you’re in need?” Sidsworth said. “It’s hard work on both sides, on being the agency that is offering the support and being the person trying to obtain it.”
Participants are expected to sleep outside in cardboard boxes until 7 a.m. Anyone can drop by and support the participants or donate.
Last year just over $12,000 was raised. The goal is always $10,000.