By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune staff writer
As winter temperatures chill the air, more families find themselves cuddled up in the warmth of their home. But as more families are being forced to find shelter in boxes and under bridges, organizations such as Kokomo Rescue Mission and Coordinated Assistance Ministries, better known as CAM, are trying to help raise awareness of homelessness during this year’s Homeless Awareness Week, which kicked off Monday.
They hope to find the help needed to warm the souls of those less fortunate.
“Homelessness isn’t what people always expect. It’s not always the stereotype. More and more children under the age of 18 are becoming homeless,” Sally Ripley, director of development at Kokomo Rescue Mission, said about the importance of the community taking the time to sympathize with homelessness. “We don’t always know what causes homelessness. It can just be a situation where the person loses their job and resources.”
CAM executive director Ruth Lawson said this year marks the 13th year for Homeless Awareness Week. It’s full of events geared to help and inform homeless people, and those interested in volunteering.
It falls close to the holiday season for a reason.
“Choosing the week before Thanksgiving is significant. It’s a week before we all think about what we’re thankful for,” Lawson said. “It’s a time to bring extra awareness to the fact people are in need. This is the season of giving, and we are helping make people aware of homelessness during these months of giving.”
Although many hearts can only sympathize with homelessness, Deborah Gibbs can empathize.
“I was once homeless,” Gibbs said. “There’s a lot of pain and sadness that comes with being homeless; you feel like nobody cares, it’s very depressing. Sometimes you just want to give up.” But Gibbs didn’t give up.
“CAM had a place called Hope House, and they didn’t let me lose hope. That’s the best way I can put it,” Gibbs said about why she kept going. “They were my friend to talk to me. I think the biggest thing is I saw the kindness of others. People want to give their hearts to help you.”
Yesteryear, Gibbs was a client of CAM. Today, Gibbs is a volunteer at CAM, and she will be standing next to a cardboard box inside Markland Mall, raising awareness of homelessness as one of the organization’s outreach activities for Homeless Awareness Week. Gibbs added standing on the other side of homelessness feels like a remarkable feat.
“It’s the most wonderful feeling you could ever feel,” Gibbs said about her transformation from being a CAM client to a CAM volunteer. “It gives you a lot of joy inside, because there’s a big feeling of hope I have for others.”
Gibbs said she encourages people to get involved in Homeless Awareness Week, especially the Grate American Sleepout; an overnight outdoor sleepover into the world of homelessness where people sleep with bones chilled to their core.
“People should do it because they get a feeling of how it is for someone who lives like that. They have a better understanding of it,” Gibbs said. “There’s a lot of people out there who stick there nose up at homelessness and they don’t stop to understand what it’s about. The fact is, it could be them. You don’t have to be poor to end up like that.”
For more information:
kokomorescuemission.org or 765-456-3838
caminchope forhomeless.org or 434-0687
• Live-in Boxes: Today through Saturday at Markland Mall. Draw and write what you’re thankful for on the boxes replicated to look like a home for the homeless.
• Grate American Sleepout: 10 p.m. Friday to 7:30 a.m. Saturday. CAM will host the all-night event that challenges community members to expand their sympathy to empathy, as they spend a night out in the cold. For more information, call Ruth Lawson at 765-434-0687.