- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
You can’t truly know the plight of others until you walk a mile in their shoes, or in this case, three miles.
Now in its 10th year, “A Walk to End Homelessness in Charles County” is geared toward raising awareness for the county’s homeless community. The walk will be held in La Plata on Saturday.
What began as a small event has grown over the last decade and changed where donations go, but the overall mission remains the same.
“When the walk began, it started as a project of the Charles County Homeless & Emergency Shelter Committee, and the first year we held it, it was very small,” United Way of Charles County Executive Director Dottie Harper said. “The first few years, the money we raised went to all the agencies involved on the committee. Eventually, it evolved into ... the money going to the Safe Nights program, and that’s when LifeStyles [of Maryland] took over the event.”
Since organizing the event changed hands, LifeStyles Support Services Director Corae Young said the group has continued to enjoy strong support from the community.
“The focus here is to raise funds for Safe Nights,” Young said. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of support from other organizations in the community.”
Last year, Young said, 745 people turned out to walk. This year, she said, 275 people have registered so far, and she anticipates around 600 people the day of the event. More than 74 organizations participate in some form to help the event run smoothly, whether it be by distributing water bottles and snacks, assisting in mailing information before the event or donating money.
“It raises awareness about homelessness in the county in general to let those in need know there are resources out there. ... We want to act as a support system,” Young said.
Among participants in the walk are homeless men and women from the county, but Young could not say how many attend.
A former resident of the now-defunct “tent city” in La Plata who now resides in Prince George’s County, Theresa Brooke said that while she was homeless in the county, she used LifeStyles-operated programs.
“I stayed at Safe Nights for about a month over the winter,” Brooke said. “It put a roof over my head.”
“We started this because we felt this community didn’t really know that there was a problem with homelessness in this county, because you don’t see them out here like you would in a city,” Harper said. “We thought maybe people didn’t fully comprehend the problem. And we picked November because the homeless are homeless all year round, no matter what the weather. It’s not some beautiful day in June: it could well be cold and windy and rainy. It’s a good project, it deserves support.”
A recent survey conducted by the St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services indicated that 351 people from 242 households were homeless in Southern Maryland, a figure that only took into consideration those in shelters and not the unsheltered population.