FAIRMONT — A group of local residents are planning Fairmont’s Big Sleep Out, a winter night spent outdoors to draw attention to the need for emergency crisis housing in the area. From 5 p.m. Dec. 7 until 9 a.m. Dec. 8, a contingent of hardy souls will camp out sans tents at Citizens Park next to Fairmont City Hall to raise funds and coordinate efforts for temporary emergency shelter.
The local event will coincide with the World’s Big Sleep Out, a first-time international fundraising challenge to raise money and awareness for the issue of homelessness. International sponsors include UNICEF, the Malala Fund, the Institute of Global Homelessness and Social Bite.
“The event focuses on homelessness around the world,” said Jason Subbert, one of the event coordinators. “It’s not just people who don’t have a home. It’s refugees from the California fires, hurricanes or military conflicts. But homelessness is different here. It’s not just somebody who is transient and lives in their car or on the street.
“We don’t walk through downtown and see homeless people every day like in some communities, but we do have a need almost daily for people who don’t have a safe place to be. Our need is for emergency crisis housing for kids and adults. That’s really at the forefront for Martin County and Fairmont.”
Subbert was one of 23 local residents who recently attended the Blandin Community Leadership Conference when the lack of emergency housing arose in one of the discussion groups.
“One of the things that came forward was, for the safety and security of our community, there is a need to support children and adults in moments of crisis by providing emergency housing,” he said. “We also identified that we don’t have an organized effort in our community. Everybody is just kind of doing their own thing. We need to work together to create a unified effort so when somebody is in this crisis, the Sheriff’s Department knows what to do, the church knows what to do.”
A few weeks later, Subbert, who is general manager of TPI’s four hotels in Fairmont, read about the World’s Big Sleep Out in a newsletter from the Holiday Inn corporation, one of the many international sponsors, and it triggered his efforts to organize a local fundraising event. The occasion will raise funds but also will offer an opportunity to coordinate efforts of various support groups that deal with emergency housing. He mentions “couch hoppers,” teenagers who, for whatever reason, don’t have a safe, stable home environment so they often seek shelter on a friend’s couch, or adults and children who cannot stay in their home due to a domestic situation.
“We have little pockets and silos of groups that are doing things for people who have a need for crisis emergency housing,” he said, citing the local Salvation Army and churches. “They already do this kind of work, but there just isn’t an organized effort yet.
“What happens when adults or kids can’t stay where they are at? How do we help them? Where can they go? We need to have a more unified focus. We’re not there yet, but we are taking a step.”
Within the first few days of announcing the event, 10 people stepped up to participate, representing clergy, law enforcement, Human Services, business and education, and there is room for more. As one participant stated, “People deal with this every day. I can deal with it for one night.”
“Everybody is welcome. There’s a place for everybody at this event,” Subbert said. “We’ll have a couple of burn barrels. We’ll have the lobby open at City Hall so the restrooms will be open or if people just want to go in and warm up for a while.”
Participants are allowed a sleeping bag, and a tarp or waterproof covering or an appliance box also are permitted, but no tents.
“No matter what the weather is, we are doing it. I think a lot of people will be up most of the night,” Subbert said.
Because there is no cost to participate, people can host their own event in their backyard.
TPI has agreed to match up to $1,000 of funds raised by the campers at Citizens Park. All funds raised will be used to combat homelessness with half the proceeds donated to the international effort and half remaining local, specifically with the Fairmont Salvation Army. Any personal donations to the Salvation Army can be earmarked for local crisis housing.
Subbert encouraged people to stop by and visit the campers the night of the sleep out.
“If they want to drop off some hot chocolate or cookies, that’s okay, too,” he said.
More information on the event is available on the Facebook page, Fairmont’s Big Sleep Out.