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 sporting events in the Shoalhaven, launched SOS saying it was a chance to experience what it is like to be homeless and at the same time raise money for three local organisations that provide homelessness services.
“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 were 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 to make a shelter with.
“My aim is to raise between $10,000 and $20,000.
“Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna 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.
SOS will start at 4pm 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 a person may be homeless and in many cases they can’t do anything about it.
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 keen to get involved in the project should contact Mark Emerton on 0413 765 248.