OWEN SOUND – As preparations were made Friday for Safe ‘n Sound’s second annual overnight campout to raise awareness and some money to combat homelessness, the rain started.

Organizers want to remind people that some around us do camp in all kinds of weather because they have to. Richard Suchow, the manager at the downtown drop-in and homeless referral agency, plans to pitch tarps, a tent and camp behind the centre at 310 8th St. E.

“We’ll brave the elements as long as we’re able to do that without being ridiculous and freezing to death,” Suchow said as the rain already started to fall over the lunch hour. “Where unlike true homelessness, we can go in and get warm and come back out.”

The centre will be open all night to support campers, who may simply wrap themselves in blankets and sleeping bags and sit on chairs through the night, Suchow said.

He and three other volunteers, Bill Baker, Shawn McMann and Lynn Dilworth, sat on a bench behind the centre with sleeping bags in hand and talked about homelessness and what they’re trying to do about it.

The citizen-led agency opened in spring, 2009. It offers a place to meet, lockers to store belongings and get help accessing resources. Arrangements for after-hours emergency shelter are made here too.

Safe ‘n Sound receives $2,000 per month from Grey County to help cover expenses but the operation runs mostly on volunteers.

Baker is responsible for the storeroom where donated clothing and toiletries are given to people in need. He said local people are very generous. He planned to hand out available sleeping bags Friday night.

McMann is currently couch surfing and declined to discuss his personal circumstances. But he volunteers at the centre and does Dilworth, who was homeless 2 1/2 years ago after a marital breakup left her with little more than a backpack of belongings. Now she accommodates homeless people on her couch and even in a tent and in her backyard.

Suchow said the agency always needs money and volunteers in a variety of capacities, including web design and even someone with a truck to pick up donations. But the educational part of Friday night’s event is just as important, he said.

“Unfortunately, when you’re in poverty and homelessness the people feel less of themselves.

And they really feel like they’re under the microscope,” Suchow said. And so, he said, homeless people are often apologetic when caught sleeping in stairways and bank machine enclosures.

“I think it’s because people don’t understand homelessness. And so they don’t realize this isn’t a bad person because they are homeless. That we see middle-class families in some cases have lost everything. It just happens.”

Saturday morning at the Queen’s Park bandstand along 1st Ave. W., speakers will talk about homelessness, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller will make an appearance and Owen Sound Mayor Deb Haswell is scheduled to make remarks about 10 a.m.

To donate money online, go to Canadahelps.org and search Safe ‘n Sound Residence. To learn about volunteer opportunities or to arrange to donate materials, call 519-470-7233.


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