YWCA event raises awareness about homelessness, hunger - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

YWCA event raises awareness about homelessness, hunger

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Each night in West Virginia, thousands of homeless men, women and children must sleep outside because they have nowhere else to go.

As a sign of solidarity and so people can experience the harsh reality some people live with every day, the Kanawha Valley Collective its hosting its annual One Night Without a Home. The organization encourages people to bring a sleeping bag to Magic Island in Charleston at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 to learn the realities of homeless, including sleeping in tents without zippers or on benches. Attendees can stay all night or for a couple of hours, but everyone is asked to bring nonperishable food.

Debbie Weinstein, executive director of the YWCA, said she participated in the event a couple of years ago and it completely changed her perspective.

"I never recognized how truly blessed I am that I have a home, a warm home, to go into," Weinstein said. "Its something intellectually that you know, but unless you've experienced 25 degrees and blowing snow and you're in a tent, which by the way didn't zip up, you really understand and have a much deeper compassion for those who have to sleep outdoors."

Nov. 10-18 is National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. According to YWCA statistics, more than 4,300 homeless people in West Virginia used emergency or transitional housing. On any given night in the state, more than 800 people don't have a place to stay. The YWCA's Sojourners shelter in Charleston provided shelter for more than 1,200 homeless children and adults last year.

According to Margaret Taylor, director of Sojourners, the shelter served 307 children last year, the youngest being two days old. In addition, three veterans currently stay at the shelter.

Joe Barker is one veteran who benefited from services provided by the Kanawha Valley Collective. Barker was homeless for 13 months before he sought the services provided by homeless shelters in the area. He said his own trust issues prevented him from seeking help sooner.

"At first I was hesitant because of trust issues I've always had," Barker said. "I always thought I could do this on my own, I could do this on my own and I didn't want to reach out."

However, Barker got connected with homeless veteran programs and was able to secure his own housing and go back to school. He now spends his time helping others.

"My life has changed. The way I do things today has changed," he said. "I've gotten involved. People were suggesting things for me to do. I was so devastated by being homeless that I decided to reach out and start helping others."

Barker said his goal is to open his own shelter for homeless veterans.

Although the YWCA hopes to use the event to raise awareness and educate people about homelessness, they recognize that one night in the cold does not simulate the realities of homelessness. Weinstein said she hopes the event will stir compassion and educate others to help alleviate the effect of homelessness and hunger in the community.

The event begins at 6 p.m. Saturday and will feature speakers and live music. For information, call Traci Strickland at 304-341-0511 extension 1732.