HOMELESSNESS in the Shoalhaven will be in sharp focus in early August with the inaugural Sleep Out Shoalhaven or SOS.
It is estimated around 150 people sleep rough in the Shoalhaven each night – they can be homeless people sleeping outside or in whatever shelter they can find, or others having to sleep in cars or crashing on friends’ lounges or floors.
SOS will be held on the lawns of the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre on August 9 and everyone is welcome to be involved.
Elite Energy director Mark Emerton, who for many years has organised a number of sporting events in the Shoalhaven, including the Husky Triathlon, launched SOS, saying it was a chance to experience what it is like to be a homeless while raising money for three local organisations that provide homelessness services in the Shoalhaven.
“I spent Christmas Day a couple of years ago helping feed homeless people in Sydney, which was a real eye-opener,” he said.
“I knew we had homeless problems in the Shoalhaven and this could be a way of trying to do something to help.”
For its inaugural event, SOS will back three local organisations - All Saints Community Care, John Purcell House and CareSouth Youth Accommodation.
“Originally we were helping Shoalhaven Youth Accommodation Service, but due to its loss of funding and eventual wrapping up, we had to find another organisation, hence CareSouth,” Mr Emerton said.
With just over six weeks to go before SOS, Mr Emerton and his team are ramping up efforts to make the event become a reality.
“I’d love to have 500 people camping out on the front lawn of the entertainment centre,” he said.
“But there will be no tents – it will be sleeping mats on the ground, sleeping bags, swags, or blankets.
“We will have cardboard for sale on the night that people can purchase to try and make a shelter with.
“My aim is to raise between $10,000 and $20,000.
“Shoalhaven Mayor Jo Gash has backed our efforts and I hope to eventually make this into a real annual community event like the Relay for Life, which does a great job raising money for cancer research. We also need to do something for our homeless.
“Sleep out so they can sleep in”
“Statistics show there are on average 2200 homeless people in Australia each night. The 2006 census showed the Shoalhaven had at least 100 homeless people a night and that has grown to around 150 a night.
“A large majority of those local homeless are youth.”
SOS will start at 4pm on August 9 and into the evening will feature entertainment, live music and possibly an outdoor movie screening.
“Many people may have the impression that a homeless person is a bum or a drunk on the corner but this is often not the case,” Mr Emerton said.
“There are many reasons why a person may be homeless and in many cases they can’t do anything about it.
“We have to do something to help them and also the services who try and provide support to them.
“It would be great to get the whole community behind this.
“Who knows, if we can make it as successful as some of the other fund-raising events around the area, in years to come we may even be able to raise enough money to actually build some homes for homeless people.”
Donations are encouraged to take part in the event - $10 for an individual child, $20 an individual adult of $50 a family.
Community groups, sporting clubs, schools or groups of friends can take part for $100 (1-5 members) or $200 (6 plus members).
Local business can also get involved by sponsoring the event, with packages available ranging from $250 up to $1000.
Anyone who would like to get involved in the project can contact Mark Emerton on 0413 765 248.