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Daybreak Sleepout 2017: Homelessness has no place in Macon

“The people change, but the numbers stay the same.” Martel said. “Homelessness isn’t a group of 200 people. We see about 1,500 people a year at Daybreak. There’s not a lot of variation, but it kind of proves the point that poverty in Macon is a big issue.”

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Close your eyes. It’s 2 AM. Sirens are blaring.  You try to lay down and rest on the concrete, but you can’t. You try to close your eyes again. You can’t. You’re alone.  Imagine you are in a temporary shelter and are surrounded while you sleep by many others, with nowhere to go during the daytime. Picture yourself in a hotel that is just as loud and unsettling. One you can only afford for a night or a week. You’re just trying to feel stable. You’re homeless.

Now open your eyes. The truth is, unless you’ve faced homelessness, you will never truly understand what it is like. Reading about the struggles is not a justifiable or relatable reality. You can, however, make a difference. One which could very well be life changing for someone facing homelessness, which is considered any type of living instability. That includes living day to day in a hotel, staying on a friend’s couch, or sleeping on the street. According to the 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, on a single night, 549,928 people experienced homelessness in America.

Homelessness is not a new phenomenon. It’s certainly never been subject to solely being in the United States either. The Depaul Group was created to address homelessness in London in 1989. The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and others aimed to aid and care for those without a reliable roof over their head. St Vincent de Paul is the namesake for Depaul International and the charities’ inspiration. He was a priest who dedicated his life to serving the poor. Depaul USA was then opened in 2008 and now serves cities all over the country including Philadelphia, St. Louis, Little Rock, New Orleans, Chicago, and Macon. The worldwide charity sees them as people and respects their humanity.

That’s what Gaye Martel, Volunteer Coordinator at Daybreak, wants you to know. Yes, they are homeless. But first, they are people. Daybreak, a Project of Depaul USA, provides a safe haven during the day for those who do not have a place to call home. Daybreak opened its doors in 2012 and has made a substantial impact on those facing unstable living situations. “The people change, but the numbers stay the same.” Martel said. “Homelessness isn’t a group of 200 people. We see about 1,500 people a year at Daybreak. There’s not a lot of variation, but it kind of proves the point that poverty in Macon is a big issue.”

Daybreak is more than just a resource center. The humbly innovative facility is filled with warmth and opportunity. There are showers, phones and a technology center to help with job searching, a laundry room, a medical clinic, and access to case managers. There’s also a large room with books, couches, and where coffee and a hot morning meal is served. The individual first approach makes Daybreak so special. People can find refuge and rest while receiving resources for their future. The staff and volunteers make each and every person feel valued.

According to Martel, Daybreak sees about 80-120 people a day. “We have a lot of people who move on from us” she said. They even have people who will come back and support the charity by donating supplies or their time. “One of our principles is that the only way to help people heal themselves is building relationships with them. Being homeless is very isolating. You live very defensively. You’re very untrusting out of self-preservation and that destroys your ability to consider yourself a part of the community. That’s what we need people to remember. They belong here in Macon. They have people that care about them and that can really be life changing.” Martel said.

Charities rely on community support and donations to provide relief for people who need it most. On February 23rd from 6pm to 9am on the 24th, Daybreak will host the 4th Greater Macon Sleepout, a way to annually raise money to support, through numerous services, those who are homeless in the community. “The Sleepout is our primary fundraiser. It didn’t really make sense considering the people we serve to have a $200 plate gala or an exclusive event. This is more in line with our values.” They’re asking you to give up one night of comfort to sleep under the stars and shed light on the struggle of not knowing where you’re going to rest your head. “People commit to raising $1,000 and we ask them to try really, really hard. They can also do that by forming teams.” Martel said. This year, the sleepout will be in the field next door to Daybreak due to the renovations at Central City Park, where it has been in years past.

Homelessness is not something that can be related to over the course of a night, but you can show the spirit of Macon through camaraderie. “Some people think we chose a sleepout to give people an idea of what it’s like to be homeless, but that’s really not it. You can’t experience in one night what it’s like to struggle day after day with that kind of instability. But it is a way to show solidarity. It puts into action one of our values which is that we’ll walk with you on this. We will respect your humanity and respect you as a person wherever you are on your journey out of homelessness. We will be there with you. That’s what Daybreak embodies.” Daybreak is supported by 13 churches and synagogues in Macon but there is no specific religious affiliation with the charity. Martel says they solely strive to help others. “You deserve help no matter what you believe.” She added.

Daybreak Sleepout 2016

In the 2016 Sleepout, Daybreak raised almost $70,000 in the annual fundraiser and this year they are aiming for more support and even more participants. The goal is $100,000. “The real epiphany comes the next morning when you’re freezing and it’s dark and cold outside and you come into Daybreak. It’s warm and well lit and there are people that know your name and bring you coffee and you can shower and be warm.” Martel added. If you can’t participate in the Sleepout, the charity always appreciates donations and volunteers. Sometimes, the most meaningful donation can be your time. “Come a play a game of chess with someone and talk to them. Be curious about them as a person. That’s who we are.” Martel said. “We want to tell each other our stories.”

For the event, Daybreak recommends bringing a sleeping bag, maybe even a tent, and dressing in layers. Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation will provide fire pits and Daybreak encourages you to “bring your campfire talents, your guitar, your singing voice, and your stories.” Dinner is being provided by Navicent Health and breakfast will be prepared and served by Burgers, Biscuits & More. As the charity says, “Homelessness has no place in Macon.” Your donation or night of selflessness provides year long benefits to those who are trying to escape homelessness. “If you believe in helping people this is the place where you can practice what you believe.” Don’t close your eyes on this, Macon. Open them. Then, consider opening your wallet.

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