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Sleep-out planned to raise funds for homeless

Backers of a Homeless Sleep-Out hope to get up to 50 hardy souls to gather pledges, pitch tents and crawl into sleeping bags Saturday night at Lincoln School, raising as much as $10,000 to help feed and house the homeless through the year — and get a small taste of what it’s like to live that way.

The Sleep-Out starts at 2 p.m. and will have the flavor of a scouting event, with live music, instruction, discussion, hot chili and maybe even some ghost stories. The community is welcome to drop in, sing along, participate in skull sessions on homelessness and, of course, drop some folding money into the kitty, says John Wieczorek, chairman of Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland. Lincoln is a former elementary school, empty now, administered by Ashland schools.

The event, which is OHRA’s major fundraiser of the year, is planned to be annual and, if other cities are any example, the amount of money raised will grow rapidly, says Wieczorek. The event in Minneapolis went from $10,000 in the first cold-weather Sleep-Out 18 years ago, to over $2 million now, he adds.

“The Sleep-Out is important because there’s a huge unmet need for funding for the homeless,” says ARC Executive Direction Leigh Madsen. “I work with people every day who wake up after sleeping in the bushes or in their cars. With this event, we can be in solidarity with them.”

ARC gets a two-year $100,000 grant from the city of Ashland for operating expenses and also does fundraising, limiting spending to $200 a family to help them get self-sufficient, says Madsen.

“That just scratches the surface,” he adds. “I have four families with seven children on my lot right now and looking for housing and assistance right now. I don’t have the money to meet their needs.”

Community organizer Dot Fisher-Smith will be camping overnight and will encourage attendees to visit Uncle Food’s Diner on Tuesdays (Methodist Church, Main at Laurel) and get to know the homeless.

“I feel very strongly about taking care of people, especially in a town like Ashland, that is so wealthy,” says Fisher-Smith. “The whole point of this is to raise money. It will be easy. I already got pledges, and one is from a woman with no job or money. She gave me $5.”

Fisher-Smith says she will bring only her sleeping bag and toothbrush — and a tent if it looks like rain.

“I’ll be better off than most of the homeless,” she says. “I’m not doing anything very daring. Sleeping out under the stars is just a gesture, but it’s a brilliant idea and a great fundraiser. We need to do better by our homeless residents. We need to educate people."

 John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Correction: The article as printed Nov. 6, 2014 attributed Options for Homeless Residents of Ashland incorrectly.