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Dozens doze outside in support of homeless

November 17, 2000

Dozens doze outside in support of homeless



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


About two dozen people volunteered for a freezing night of discomfort in City Park Friday, sleeping outdoors in cardboard boxes to show empathy for the homeless.

There were only 12 boxes, so even a flimsy shelter wasn't guaranteed.

"This is luxurious compared to what the homeless have," said Glenda S. Helman, chairwoman of the Washington County Task Force on Homeless, as she looked at a table of cold sandwiches and a barrel of burning firewood near Walnut Street.

This year's "Grate" American Sleepout was the sixth in Washington County. Helman, participating in her fifth, said the conditions are too miserable for her to sleep, so she settles for 15-minute catnaps.

Cheryl Moyer Walkley, executive director of Washington Community Action Council Inc., has slept outside all six years.

"The first year, there were four of us," she said, recalling the snow. "At 4 a.m., I began to understand the fear and loneliness of homelessness."

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A worry as simple as where to put her glasses for the night was jarring, since she's helpless without them.

The first sleepout was on a Wednesday, and Walkley missed work the next day. "I had sleep deprivation, and the wind just penetrated me. I had to sleep, take a hot bath, then sleep."

The National Weather Service forecast for Friday night in Hagerstown called for lows in the mid-20s, with a northwest wind of 10 to 15 mph.

The group planned to stay in the park until sunrise today, when they would have breakfast inside.

Walkley said there are about 140 homeless people in Washington County, based on the number regularly served at area shelters. More than one-third are children and more than one-third have diagnosed mental illnesses, she said.

Once the weather gets brisk, there is always an indoor place for them, such as the Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless (REACH) Cold Weather Shelter, which opened for this season on Sunday.

Gail Snyder, who works at a nursing home and is president of the North Hagerstown Lions Club, was ready to sing Reba McEntire's "I'll Be" Friday evening until she realized the batteries in her cassette player were dead. So, she backed her Chevy Blazer onto the grass, popped in the McEntire tape and sang: "When you need someone to see you through, I'll be there to carry you. ..."

Luke Perry of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington told the small huddled crowd that society's chill may be worse than Mother Nature's.

"It's not the physical cold that wears them down," he said. "It's more the coldness of being left out and stared at and forgotten."

"As a (public) servant, I am ashamed and embarrassed that we have people in Washington County that have to struggle to find a place to stay," said County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz.

"I thank God every day that I have a house ...," Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said. "If I had room, I'd take them all in, but it's kind of small."

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