By Suzanne Coolen
BELLEVILLE – Students in the social service worker program at Loyalist College are gearing up for another year of participating in the Sleep Out So Others Can Sleep In fundraiser for the homeless.
The event is aimed at raising awareness about poverty and funds for transitional housing for those without shelter in our community. This is the eighth year the sleep out has been held.
Social service worker student, Natasha Roth said the experience for her last year was a real eye opener.
“You always know about homeless people and how bad it is for them but I think until you actually experience what it’s like to be in their shoes we cannot really say much,” she said. “Sleeping out there was a big eye opener for me. It gave me better appreciation for what I have and more of a appreciation for what I can do for others who have less than I do.”
Alicia Pinelli is another student in the social worker program returning to the event. She says the sleep out was unlike any experience she ever had.
“Once the music stopped and it was time to head to sleep is when it became an eye opening experience,” she said. “I remember shivering, lying in a box, listening to my friends mention just how close our houses were and that we could walk home in a matter of minutes and be back in our beds. That is when I made a vow to myself to stay outside for the entire night, not going to the warm room, and completing the entire sleep out.”
Pinelli said the sleep out made the cause of homelessness a reality.
“Until that night I had educated myself through every means possible on homelessness, but the sleep out made it truly real,” she said. ” I believe that this is an experience unlike any other that truly changes your outlook on life. It not only causes you to appreciate the things you have in life, but it educates you and makes you understand that homelessness is an issue that needs to be focused on and addressed in Canada, as well as around the globe.”
She added that after sharing her experience with family and friends that many of them will be joining her for this years event.
Student Kristin Casey said the sleep out was about more then just sleeping outside.
“For me the sleep out was about experiencing what is was like for people who don’t have a safe and warm place to sleep. It made me appreciate everything that I previous took for granted, such as, a roof over my head, a comfortable bed to sleep in with blankets and pillows, and warm clothes,” she said. “The sleep out had a powerful effect on me. Its an experience I’ll never forget and that I’ll always be grateful for.”
Sandie Sidsworth, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings and Prince Edward Counties
said the event this year will have speakers from the community who are poverty advocates.
“Sandy Watson-Moyles from Three Oaks shelter and Ruth Ingersoll from Community Development Council Quinte will be speaking to the crowd,” she said. “From Loyalist, Lisa Shunock and Rose Marie Reid who are professors in the Child and Youth worker program will be on hand to discuss the poverty challenge they do each year with their students.”
The event runs from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. on January 30, in Belleville’s Market Square behind city hall.
If you’d like to take part in this year’s event you can call the CMHA at 613-969-8874 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a pledge and safety sheet.