Middlebury ‘Sleep Out’ yields more than $46K to help homeless

MIDDLEBURY — John Graham Housing & Services’ (JGHS) fourth annual “Sleep Out,” held near the Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury overnight from Dec. 2 to 3, raised more than $46,000 for programs helping homeless people in Addison County.
Elizabeth Ready, executive director of JGHS, said the impressive total is likely to climb even higher as participants and donors confirm their pledges and hand in their checks during the coming days.
“Here in Addison County we are grateful for the many businesses and individuals who stood with homeless families by making donations, attending the vigil and sleeping out,” Ready said in an emailed response to the Addison Independent.
“This was our most successful Sleep Out to date.”
It was in 2014 that JGHS held its inaugural Sleep Out, designed not only as a fundraising tool, but also as an opportunity for participants to experience first-hand what it’s like to be homeless for a night during a cold Vermont winter. The debut Sleep Out drew around 40 brave souls who faced bone-chilling temperatures and some wind-driven icy rain to raise around $30,000 for JGHS, a Vergennes-based nonprofit that provides food, temporary shelter and transitional housing to homeless people, as well as a variety of support services to help them sustain their independence.
As in past years, Sleep Out participants met on the Middlebury town green for a candlelight vigil, followed by a communal meal at the nearby St. Stephen’s Church. They then made temporary camp on the Marble Works side of the Otter Creek Falls to spend the night. This year’s group pitched a combined total of around 20 tents and a cardboard box, according to Ready. Some also brought cans or bags of food, diapers, toiletries, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and/or a new quilt or set of sheets to help families transitioning from the shelter to new homes.
Ready was pleased with the overall fundraising effort, and people can still chip in by logging on to tinyurl.com/yajub2gf, or by sending a check to John Graham Housing and Services at 69 Main St., Vergennes, VT 05491.
Abi Sessions of Cornwall reached the most donors (more than 80) this year, while Owen McClain of Lincoln raised the most money — a grand total of $11,288, according to Ready.
The Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Youth Group — which often cooks meals for shelter residents — fielded the largest Sleep Out team, followed by the Walden Project of Vergennes Union High School.
“Our smallest donation was $5 and our largest was $8,400,” Ready said.
She hopes the reason for the Sleep Out stays in the public’s consciousness for many weeks to come.
“We hope people will understand why so many Vermonters are homeless, with the number continuing to rise,” Ready said. “Simply put, their wages aren’t enough to live on. The very weekend when 40 Addison County residents were sleeping out by the falls, members of Congress were voting for broad tax cuts for the wealthy.”
She and other human services advocates are expressing concern Congress could choose to pay for those tax cuts by trimming federal subsidies — such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security — that provide critical assistance to the elderly and low-income citizens.
“It is painful to connect the dots linking childhood poverty, homelessness, opiate addiction and child welfare to the lack of opportunity for working poor families and the widening gulf between rich and poor,” Ready said. “Worse still is the raw disdain some members of Congress have for working class people.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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