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Sleepout keeps focus on homeless

By: Dave Baxter

Posted: 09/9/2017 10:45 AM

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More than 40 local business owners, politicians and advocates for the homeless are preparing to spend a night with no roof over their heads, as they look to raise money and raise awareness about the plight of the homeless in Steinbach.

Today House, an emergency overnight homeless shelter located in Steinbach will host their fifth annual CEO Sleepout next Thursday from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at K.R. Barkman Park in Steinbach.

The event invites local community leaders, business leaders and others to spend the night and sleep in the park, as a way to create awareness about those experiencing homelessness in the Steinbach community, and also to raise funds for Today House.

Today House board chair Simone Penner said Today House is completely funded through donations and fundraising, so the annual CEO Sleepout provides a major financial boost for the shelter every year.

"It’s a very, very big deal," Penner said. "It is the bulk of the funding for our year, and we really have amazing support."

The event asks each participant who will spend the night outdoors to fundraise on behalf of Today House, with each asked to fundraise a minimum of $100.

Today House had a goal of raising $50,000 during the 2016 CEO Sleepout, but ended up topping that number by $6,000 last year.

Penner said their goal for this year’s Sleepout will be to match the $56,000 raised last year.

Today House shelter coordinator Katherine Bergen said she hopes events like the CEO Sleepout also work to dispel some of the misconceptions about homelessness in the area, and show local residents that it is a real and ongoing issue, even if they aren’t always seeing it with their own eyes.

"I think in this community it is a bit of an invisible problem," Bergen said. "Typically people look at homelessness as seeing people out on the street or seeing people begging outside of a store, but that’s not really painting the right picture of homelessness in Steinbach.

"For us it’s a lot of people who are couch-surfing or squatting in empty buildings, so people don’t realize the problem is as big as it is that we are dealing with here.

"It’s consistent here and we have people in our shelter almost every night throughout the entire year."

She added that many of the homeless they deal with are people that work jobs and earn an income, but still often can’t make ends meet.

"I would even say the majority of the people that come into the shelter do have jobs, so we are not just dealing with people who are unemployed. It’s often people that get in a situation where they aren’t able to pay that one bill, and that can tips the scales for them," Bergen said.

Steinbach Towing owner Marty Rempel will take part in the CEO Sleepout for the second straight year, when he spends a night sleeping outdoors next Thursday.

Rempel said that for him last year’s event was a "huge eye opener."

"Last year it was pouring rain and I literally slept in water all night," Rempel said. "But the next morning I got to go home to a warm house, and take a shower and get on with my day, while many who are homeless can’t do that.

"They don’t know where they are going to go next or where they will even get their next meal, so it was something that made me have a better appreciation of what some are going through."

Rempel said he has been "aggressive" in raising funds for Today House, because he believes in what the organization does and in the way it helps people.

"I just think it’s a great organization and a great charity, and very important in the community," Rempel said. "I don’t think homeless people are on the streets because they want to be, so I think it’s important to support the work that Today House does to help people."

More information on Today House and the 2017 CEO Sleepout can be found by visiting todayhouse.ca.

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