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Senator, others to spend 'one night without a home'

November 16, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Glenda Helman plans to start her day Thursday dressed in business attire for a meeting, but after the sun sets she will change into thermal underwear, jeans, a turtleneck, a sweater, heavy socks, boots, a winter jacket and gloves, with a blanket wrapped around her.

That's what she'll wear as she spends the night sleeping outside as part of Martinsburg's first "One Night Without a Home" event, aimed at increasing awareness of the area's homelessness, hunger and poverty situation.

Anyone interested in experiencing firsthand what it is like to be without a home is invited to spend the night with Helman and others at the public square at the intersection of King and Queen streets.

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The event begins at 7 p.m. Thursday and will end at 7 a.m. Friday.

Helman, executive director of Martinsburg-based Community Networks Inc., said the event coincides with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, Nov. 13-19.

State Sen. John Unger encouraged Community Networks to organize an event to bring awareness to the homelessness problem in the Eastern Panhandle.

Unger said he plans to hand over his car keys and leave his wallet at home Thursday night before sleeping outside on the square.

"This is a small, small thing to do to try to understand and also (be able) to talk to the others," said Unger, D-Berkeley.

Unger said it's easy to gloss over numbers and statistics without thinking of the human beings that make them up. Although spending one night outside will not allow him to completely understand what it is like to be without a home, or to constantly worry about losing a home, he said it will help.

"As a legislator, so often you can lose touch with people you need to be serving," he said.

On any given night, 143 men, women and children seek shelter because they are without a home, Helman said.

"That doesn't count the folks who are out there sleeping under bridges, or in abandoned buildings, or in their cars," Helman said.

Because most homeless people in this area stay out of sight - rather than on heating or subway vents like in a larger city - many people might not be cognizant of the area's homeless population.

Spending the night outside could make people more aware of the plight of others.

"I'm hoping for a deeper understanding," said Helman, who previously helped the Washington County Task Force organize a similar event in Hagerstown.

There will be no heat source, food or bathroom facilities during the event, so those spending the night are encouraged to properly prepare for a November night.

"You're going to be out in the cold," Helman said. "Folks need to dress warmly. I would encourage them to dress in layers. I certainly will be doing that."

Community Networks operates a shelter for women and children, a transitional housing program and a housing program for those with HIV or AIDS.

During the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 138 women and 82 children sought shelter at the Bethany House, with 8,517 nights of shelter offered and 5,598 hours of case management performed. More than 11,000 meals were served. Women also can do their laundry and take part in life enrichment courses, nutrition courses and life skills training.

The HOPE transitional housing program, available to individuals for up to two years, offered its services to 18 women and 7 children.

A three-bedroom ranch home available to those with HIV or AIDS housed four adults and offered 620 nights of shelter, Helman said. Another 77 people were offered housing assistance, while 103 people received supportive services unrelated to housing.

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