EATON — Preble Countians came together on Thursday, Nov. 16 to experience “One Night Without a Home.” The annual event is held by the HIT Foundation to simulate homelessness and give those blessed with homes the experience to empathize with the homeless.
Before the campers went to sleep for the cold night, there was dinner, speeches by various people affected by homelessness, a candlelight vigil, and a movie screening. People were welcome to sleep on the Preble County Courthouse lawn or simply attend the ceremonies. For those who chose to camp out, there waas cardboard, tents, cots, and blankets.
Organizer and Program Coordinator Toni Morgan said that choosing to spend the night and what to sleep on all depended on what sort of experience someone wanted to have during the One Night Without a Home event.
“It is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which is a national thing that is done a week before Thanksgiving to bring awareness to hunger and homelessness in the country. We work with the Preble County Commissioners to make it Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in Preble County this week,” she explained.
“This is our second event, One Night Without a Home. It is meant to bring awareness to homelessness and basically we ask people to walk a mile in their shoes. People can bring tents for tonight if they want to. It depends on what experience they want. Last year we had people in tents, on cots, in sleeping bags, but they still stayed out on the courthouse lawn. We have people who brought large cardboard, so they can set up cardboard houses.”
She added, local churches brought in the soups and stews for the dinner, along with hot drinks. Blankets and cots were provided by the HIT Foundation.
As for the program itself, the Foundation brought in Maurice Young after hearing about him from a volunteer and asking for his help through an email.
“He is known as the Advocate. He made himself homeless to advocate from within the homeless system. He is actively homeless. He has a documentary that won an Emmy and everything,” she explained.
As for his participation in One Night Without a Home, Young gave a speech to the gathered participants before the vigil.
“Normally, I have the opportunity to speak in cities, but here is just more love in this smaller community than you can even imagine,” he said. “That is just amazing to me. I am originally from Indiana and Dec. 15 will be my eighth year living homeless with the homeless in my city.
“You guys are really cutting edge. I went home Wednesday morning and I talked about the school set up with the restaurant. Nobody could believe that something like that could be happening in Eaton, Ohio. I’m telling you, if that project happened anywhere else it would be all over the news. It is just amazing that it is just not known.
“That is amazing advocacy and community support. It is also amazing that the city is okay with this project being so close to the downtown. The cold shelter is also amazing. I just want to say thank you for having me here.”
Young was not the only one to speak to the gathered crowd.
Mary Bullen, President of the HIT Foundation board, took the stage to thank the crowd for their attendance and continued support of the Foundation.
“When you come out in support for need, you know that in your heart that you’re making a difference. At the HIT Foundation we’re about housing. We’re about people in Preble County who deserve a decent place to live, but we also support the world and everybody out there who don’t have a place to live. Tonight we recognize that the need for housing still goes on,” she said.
“Your heart and your empathy to help means so much. I can’t thank all of you enough.”
Following, Preble County Commissioner Denise Robertson read the proclamation for the commissioners office that declared the week Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week in Preble County.
Morgan took the microphone back to say a few additional words.
“Tonight we are here to give the invisible people a voice and to bring awareness to the true face of homelessness in Preble County,” she said. “Before you are 96 pairs of shoes. They represent the 96 people who received shelter in Preble County within the last year. Ninety-six people without basic human needs,” she said. “Tonight you are all invited to stay and walk a mile in their shoes.”
There were even two testimonials from people who lived on Preble County streets without a home. One — a woman who graduated from Eaton High School and now advocates for homeless awareness, and the other — a little girl who walked in snow to her grandmothers house and is now on her way to being adopted by a loving family.
Following all the speeches, candles were lit for the vigil as a moment of silence was shared.
“Services work, supports work, and love works,” Morgan said before the lighting ceremony. “Now it is time for action. We encourage you — our community — to become a part of the solution through education and engagement. We need to work together to welcome folks home.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH