TRAVERSE CITY — Prominent community members, including local school superintendents, a Coast Guard commander, and the heads of local utilities plan to rough it in tents to raise awareness of and money for people who struggle to heat their homes.
The Traverse City Chamber of Commerce is hosting the third annual Sleep Out on Nov. 4-5. The event raised more than $10,000 in each of the past two years.
“It brings together a group of community leaders with the idea that drawing attention to the heating needs of vulnerable households through the heating season is an import issue in our community,” said John Stephenson, executive director of the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, who has participated in past events and intends to partake in this one.
The event supports the Coalition to Keep Michigan Warm, a statewide group that raises awareness for energy assistance.
Contributions to the sleep out can go to local energy assistance programs at NMCAA, the Father Fred Foundation, the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries.
“The thing I like about the Sleep Out is how it takes the need for heat and it takes homelessness in our community and it makes it an ‘us’ problem instead of a ‘them’ problem,” said Pastor Jim Holwerda, the Father Fred Foundation chaplain. “When leaders of our community identify with the utility issues and the housing issues that some of the needy in our community experience, then it makes it a community issue.”
Both the Father Fred Foundation and NMCAA try to give utility assistance to people who need it, especially if they’re denied state assistance for various reasons.
“They’re mostly folks who can just make ends meet, but then something happens, either they need an auto repair or (get a) reduction in hours. There’s some setback where they’re living on the edge and then a setback pushes them over the edge,” said Holwerda.
Last year the event occurred on the same night that Superstorm Sandy crossed northwest Michigan.
“I remember driving from my office, wind was whipping off the bay and the sand was being blown up from the beach over the parkway,” said Stephenson. “It didn’t take us long to reach conclusion that if we’re there to bring attention to what vulnerable houses face during wintertime, it was perfectly appropriate to go ahead.”
The Sleep Out will start at 4:30 p.m. at the Plante Moran building at 600 E. Front Street.