Strathroy and St. Thomas unite to take on homelessness
Last Thursday was cold, -13 degrees, but that didn’t stop local volunteers from two rural communities from taking part in United Way’s Sleepless in our City. Over 35 activists, including police chiefs from both St. Thomas and Strathroy, raised over $50,653 and counting for the fight against rural homelessness and poverty by sleeping out in their cars for one night.
Local residents rallied behind the event, with sleepers joining in the action from across the region. This brave group of women and men came together to show that together we can take on poverty and homelessness and make life better for local people.
“Taking on issues like homelessness in a smaller town can be very difficult, we are in-tune with what youth are experiencing here when they are forced to leave their home, but the reality of being a smaller town makes overcoming some of these issues a big challenge.”
People become homeless for many reasons. It might be unemployment, illness, mental health, violence in the home, or just bad luck.
An estimated 80% of those without a place to call home in Middlesex and Elgin counties are unseen. Homelessness could be sleeping outside in the rough, but it could also be sleeping in a car, an abandoned building, shed or barn, couch-surfing at a friend’s or a teen who accepts unsafe housing, rather than be on the street.
“Taking on issues like homelessness in a smaller town can be very difficult,” shares Lindsay Rice, Director of Services and Community Development, YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin. “We are in-tune with what youth are experiencing here when they are forced to leave their home, but the reality of being a smaller town makes overcoming some of these issues a big challenge.”
The YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin had its own team of sleepers, with three women and one man from the agency taking part in the overnight event.
“I had no idea what to expect”, said Melissa Kempf, YWCA Communications/Office Manager. “The later the evening got, the harder it was to sleep. I couldn’t help but think of how isolating it would have been if I didn’t have my team with me in the car.”
Sleepless in our City began in St. Thomas with just two sleepers trying to raise awareness and money of a growing need in the community. Vacancy rates are at an all time low, and one in five kids live in a home that struggles to pay rent and put food on the table. The number of youth experiencing homelessness is growing and those youth are younger than ever. Now in its fourth year and due to urgent need, the event has spread to neighbouring communities in the region.
Donations to Sleepless in our City help United Way invest in programs that fight homelessness and poverty in Elgin and Middlesex counties. Donations are invested in immediate basic needs like food security, emergency shelter and transitional housing supports. Longer term, United Way works with community partners to fight the root causes of homelessness. Donations to United Way stay 100% local, always.
“This was my opportunity as a community leader to step up, lead through example and bring awareness to homelessness in St. Thomas,” said Police Chief Chris Herridge, St. Thomas Police Service. “I’m doing this so those in need, our neighbours and friends, will have a humane place to sleep. No one should be forced to sleep on the street.”
The fight isn’t over and we are still collecting pledges until Friday, February 28. Join us, make a donation to Sleepless in our City, and improve lives locally.
St. Thomas – Photo credits to Grayden Laing, Establish Media
St. Thomas – Sleepers 2020
Chief Chris Herridge
Strathroy – Sleepers 2020
Chief Mark Campbell