Frigid sleepout yields $30k for homeless

MIDDLEBURY — Around 40 brave souls endured bone-chilling temperatures and some wind-driven icy rain during a sleep-out at Middlebury’s Otter Creek Falls this past Saturday night in a fundraiser that collected around $30,000 to help homeless people in Addison County.
Officials at the John W. Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes spearheaded the sleep-out, which attracted a variety of people ranging in age from 6 to mid-60s, according to shelter Executive Director Elizabeth Ready.
Participants put their waterproof tents and comfy sleeping bags to the test during harsh weather conditions that certainly exemplified — both literally and symbolically — the challenges experienced by the chronically homeless people that human services officials are trying to get off the streets as winter makes its presence felt in the county.
“It was brutal,” Ready said of the elements, made even more challenging by the arctic mist blown from the falls onto the temporary, ragtag settlement. “But it was a lot of fun until around midnight.”
That fun came through the camaraderie the sleep-out attendees shared at a dinner (with food generously provided by American Flatbread and The Lobby restaurant) at St. Stephen’s Church and at a candlelight vigil on Triangle Park in downtown Middlebury.
Ready was impressed that more people showed up for the vigil than had actually signed up for the event. And there were a lot of young faces joining shelter board members and representatives of agencies — like the Counseling Service of Addison County and Addison County Parent-Child Center — who routinely work with the homeless. Groups of students from the Waldorf School, Mount Abraham Union High School and Middlebury College also eschewed their warm beds for a night to experience what it’s like to be without four walls and a roof.
“I made it through the night, but didn’t get a ton of sleep,” said Oakley Smith, a shelter board member and an owner of the Marble Works complex, which provided the campsite. “But we got to wake up and go home in the morning; a lot of people don’t get to do that.”
Indeed, the hard ground, biting wind and steady precipitation made it tough to bag many Zs. Ready recalled hearing just about every tone of the nearby Congregational Church of Middlebury bell as it faithfully made its presence known at the top of every hour. A campfire helped provide some warmth at the outset of the evening.
“By morning the campfire was coals and we awoke to howling winds and spitting snow that drove the chill to single digits,” Ready said.
DIANE LANPHER, LEFT, of Vergennes and Elizabeth Ready of the John Graham homeless shelter keep warm by the fire at last Saturday night’s “homeless” camp in the Marble Works. Photo by May Morris
Participant Rux Martin of Vergennes provided the following reaction following the event:
“Before the sleep-out, I thought I knew something of homelessness,” she said. “After it, I realized that I knew nothing at all. I have no idea how the homeless survive out there. Even with expensive gear, I was frozen to the core and hardly slept a wink. It took me a full day to recover.”
Meanwhile, several of the county’s human services organizations met last Thursday and identified 10 local homeless people that will be interviewed and brought in from the cold, according to Ready. Three clients were provided housing last week, she added.
It appears as though the sleep-out will not be a one-time fundraiser in Addison County.
 “While I have to admit that I’m not looking forward to sleeping out next year, I know more than ever that this needs to be done,” Ready said. “We need to raise more money than ever — not just to support our shelter and its transitional housing, but so citizens and businesses join us in buying into the idea that no one should be homeless even for a single night.”
It’s not too late to up the donation total from last Saturday’s sleep-out. You can do so by logging on to www.classy.org/sleepout.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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