By Tyson Leonard
BELLEVILLE – More than 100 people converged on Market Square Friday to sleep outside overnight in an effort to raise money for local anti-homelessness initiatives.
The Sleep Out! So Others Can Sleep In event, organized by the Hastings and Prince Edward branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, has been running for seven years.
The event surpassed its $10,000 goal, raising a total of $13,320. The money raised goes towards operational costs of the three local transitional houses that the CMHA runs.
Participants in the event raise money individually by canvassing their communities.
Sandie Sidsworth, executive director of the branch, said she is amazed year after year by how much the community comes together for the cause.
“This year people are so engaged and wanting to take part. It’s just amazing,” Sidsworth said.
“What impresses me is there is a consistent group that comes out.”
Belleville city Councillor Pat Culhane is part of that consistent group. She has been sleeping out since the event started.
“I want to do whatever I can to help them raise operating funds for those houses,” said Culhane.
“I think we need to take more action, because it’s going to impact a lot more people than it ever has in the past.”
Some people at the event mentioned recent layoffs in Belleville when talking about the issue of homelessness.
“The situation is so bad that people are becoming homeless who never ever thought that would happen to them,” Culhane said.
“If you are a two-income family to maintain your housing, and one of you loses your job, as in the recent layoffs at Sears, you can become homeless very quickly.
Ashley Carroll, a Belleville resident, has been coming to the event for four years. She has seen the plight of homelessness affect the people around her.
“I have a lot of friends that stay in the local transition homes that we raise money for,” she said.
“It’s not just about homelessness. It’s about poverty. It’s about things just being really crappy for people. Especially when it’s cold.”
The only way to fix these issues is to put more money into anti-poverty initiatives, such as shelters and soup kitchens, and to create more jobs, she said.