There is a change in the weather today, the wind picked up and the temperature is dropping quickly. The majority of the residents of the surrounding area will head home and turn up the heat in their home after making a warm nutritious dinner for their family.
There are many people whose warmth tonight will come from an extra blanket or a cardboard box. On Friday, that was the case for more than 100 teens plus their leaders from some local churches as they descended on Mason Field in North Attleboro, MA, for their fith annual Homelessness Awareness Weekend.
They kickoff was at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Attleboro before they walked by candlelight in solidarity of those who do not have a choice.
About 100 people joined the teens in worship at the Evangelical Covenant Church. Sue Smith, who runs the "Homes with Heart" program from the Attleboro Area Council of Churches, and the Memorial Baptist Church spoke to the teens and thanked them for their willingness to walk in the shoes of a homeless person.
Smith went to the source and asked some of her clients who have been placed in apartments, what is worse than being homeless. Their answer might surprise you: "Worse then being homeless is being invisible." People choose not to see them standing on the street in the bus and train stations, the government chooses not to see them in providing assistance.
Some may wonder why these teens would choose to give up a weekend to do this. Members of the Seekonk Memorial Baptist Church had some great reasons.
Arlena Phillips said, "I do this so we can spread the tragedy of homelessness and how widesoread it is."
Sarah said, "I do the Homeless Awareness weekend because you don't know what it's like until you actually go through it yourself. It is amazing being able to see the faces of those that you help. That is what makes it all worth it."
Destiny said, "It's one thing to hear and to talk about homelessness, it's another thing to see and experience it. I participate in homelessness awareness weekend because not only do I get some understanding of what it is like to experience homelessness but it puts things into a new perspective for me to appreciate what I have and to help others that don't. It's gratitude like no other to offer your time and to see a face that truely means it when they say Thank-You."
Rev. Jay Fast and Rev. Doug Bixby opened the service with a prayer that asked for "God to open our eyes to see where He wants us to serve."
The teens shared facts about the facts of who is homeless. Of the homeless people in the U.S., more than 200,000 are veterans, 50% of the homeless population are children, and there are more than 100 people living on the streets in the Greater Attleboro area. Some students shared stories of homeless people, including a story of a runaway who turned to prostitution to stay alive on the streets.
Loretta Johnson from the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless shared with the teens that one of the biggest problems in Rhode Island is shelter space as well as affordable housing.
The teens had an opportunity to hear from two women who have been homeless and are now in secure living situations. Both Pamela Therein and Wilma Smith are part of speaker group called the Voices of Homelessness. According to their website, their mission is, "We will change the beliefs about homelessness. We will break stereotypes and misconceptions. We will educate the general public to gain support. We will put a face to the individuals suffering, and we will speak the TRUTH to END HOMELESSNESS in Rhode Island!"
Therein was not only homeless but a veteran as well. As a veteran she did not know she was able to receive benefits until she developed medical issues from having to live on the streets, that could have been avoided if she had received medical care earlier. She speaks out to try to change people's thoughts on who are the homeless.
Therein said that "all homeless people are not drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill or irresponsible. I think, rather I believe, that homelessness is a product of society. That it is like pain, it’s an indication that something is dramatically wrong with society." Both women found themselves in shelters where they could spend the night, but both experienced being turned out in the cold during the day. Therein had a college degree before she was homeless and is now working on her master's in social work.
Smith was only 13 when she ran away from home and ended up in foster care and had a child at 15. She always believed that she would have power in education and worked hard enough to get a full scholarship to Duke University. Unfortunately, the opportunity was lost when she had to choose between school and her daughter. She was lucky to get housing in Boston and continues to work on getting her degree to enable her to create better opportunities for her family.
Rev. Sarah Weaver from the Rehoboth Congregational Church, whose church began this event five years ago, lead the congregation in a Litany for Awareness. "Those who are homeless can be seen in the doorways, in bus stations, in parks, and on the roadside ... In the hustle and bustle of our lives we walk by them for they are invisible to us." The people prayed for "God to help us slow down our fast-paced lives and give us the strength to open our eyes to those who are homeless."
Rev. Kenneth Landin of the Original Congregational Church in Wrentham dismissed the teens as they left the warmth of the church's interior and headed out into the dark with their way lit only by candlelight and they made the long walk to Mason Field where they had already created their box city.
The only warmth for the night came from the fires that were manned all night by some of the chaperones. The next morning, they left their beds and depended on the kindness of their churches for their food as they spent the day panhandling in the area, serving at area soup kitchens, and making box lunches to hand out to those in need.
All the money raised will be spent at the discretion of the youth leaders. Last year all of the money raised was donated to the local food banks and to the Attleboro Area Council of Churches for use in supporting the food programs and Homes with Heart.
You can find the teens tomorrow at Mason Field, Wrentham Common, Seekonk Memorial Baptist Church, Centenary Methodist Church, serving in Providence and in Taunton and in front of the Covenant Church at Rt 152 and Toner Blvd.