Activists focus on 'grate' escape

November 14, 1997


Staff Writer

It was cold and damp Friday night, but Glenda S. Helman said that's just the way it should have been.

"We felt it was important that we do this and get out here anyway, because homeless people can't get out of the rain," said Hellman, chairwoman of the Washington County Task Force on Homelessness' "'Grate' American Sleepout" at Hagerstown City Park.

The event gave about 20 area residents a chance to give up the warmth of their warm, dry homes for one evening and replace such comfort with sleeping bags and barrel fires.

Helman said the idea is educate the public about the homelessness in the community by experiencing both physically and emotionally the effects it has on its victims.


Cheryl M. Walkley, executive director of the Community Action Council, said the event helps to let people know that there is homelessness is not confined to large cities.

The task force estimates there are about 100 homeless people in the county each evening.

"I think our homeless are much less visible. They don't stand on the square with a sign. They don't sleep on grates, because we don't have grates," Walkley said.

But Walkley said the event can only give participants a glimpse of what it is like to be without a home, not the whole picture.

"I think the one thing we can't experience is the night after night after night" of homelessness, she said.

County Commissioner James R. Wade, wearing camouflage hunting clothes, said he was spending the whole evening at the park.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he would not be able to stay, but spoke at opening ceremonies.

"I don't know what the answer to homelessness is, but I do know one thing - any American who does not have a place to lay his head is ... a shame on us," Bruchey said.

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