Caroline Morong’s Warm Hearts team, one of dozens that stayed the entire “One Night Without a Home” through gale winds and freezing rain. Front row, left to right: Amy Pierce, Jillian McCrohan, Kate McMorrow. Back row: Leslie Eaton, Caroline Morong, Maureen Gordon, Anna Remsen. (Photo provided by Caroline Morong)
Caroline Morong’s Warm Hearts team, one of dozens that stayed the entire “One Night Without a Home” through gale winds and freezing rain. Front row, left to right: Amy Pierce, Jillian McCrohan, Kate McMorrow. Back row: Leslie Eaton, Caroline Morong, Maureen Gordon, Anna Remsen. (Photo provided by Caroline Morong)
More than 30 men, women and children slept out in a Camden park on one of the nastiest nights of the year—and woke up better for the experience.

“It was cold, wet, windy and loud, but we had a tent and sleeping bag,” said Karen Pier. “Think of the people sleeping just under a tarp.”

Understanding what the more than 150 currently homeless people in our area go through, especially with the approach of winter, was the idea behind the Knox County Homeless Coalition’s very first One Night Without a Home on the Village Green, Friday, November 9. The event raised more than $30,000 and Executive Director Stephanie Primm said, “I’m so encouraged by the amount of awareness and empathy this is creating, getting people talking about the issues faced by clients at KCHC every day.”

By 6 p.m., the pretty park had turned into a tent city ringed with signs proclaiming facts such as: apartment rents in our area are 30 percent higher than the national average, as many as 7,000 Mainers are homeless, and more than 750 people have been housed in the four years of the KCHC’s existence. Snaking along the park walkway and lawn were more than 300 lit luminarias for each of the people currently working with the coalition — about half homeless and seeking shelter/permanent housing and half recently housed and working on skills to maintain that independence long-term through the coalition’s Aftercare program. Forty unlit luminarias represented the homeless people on the coalition’s waiting list.

While across the street local people streamed into the PetchaKucha at the Camden Opera House, in the park others struggled in the dark and against a whipping wind to put up tents and tarps ahead of the forecasted rainstorm. Homeless coalition staff and currently and formerly homeless individuals led small-group discussions so everyone could contemplate some of the realities of homelessness that couldn’t be simulated through the One Night Without a Home experience. An empathy station provided hand warmers and dry socks, and decaf coffee and tea and butternut squash soup donated by Zoot and Megunticook Market.

At 6 a.m. a wet brigade streamed into the Chestnut Street Baptist Church for a hot breakfast served by the Camden Community Breakfast group, who regularly serves breakfast to those in need on Monday mornings.

“I feel like I was run over by a truck,” said Amy Pierce, a customer service representative for Camden National Bank, an event sponsor, and part of the team assembled by Caroline Morong, a KCHC board member who was also instrumental in making the event happen. Amy had learned in the previous night’s discussion group about the many people in our community who work full-time jobs and sleep in tents, in their car, or even in storage units: “I can’t imagine people doing this who have to get up and go to work.”

She had been kept awake by noise and general unease: “I never wanted to go into a deep sleep so I could monitor what was going on around me,” even though a policeman kept watch through the night.

Scott Overlock eschewed tent and tarp. His takeaway? “An insulated, warm home is a privilege.”

Amber, 16, said, “I didn’t expect such a big turnout.” Her friend Marisa, daughter of KCHC Housing Coordinator Crystal LaBreck, said, “Amber left our tarp open so everything — our blankets, clothes and sleeping bags— got soaked. So it was the four of us in a car all night.” KCHC staff pointed out that many of the families they work with live in cars.

Last year, the homeless coalition opened a comprehensive program in Rockland for “at risk” teens called The Landing Place. Director Joseph Hufnagel said many of the young people it cares for have homes “but are kind of fending for themselves” so “they are excited to be part of a group.” In the summer, some had their first boat ride with a coaltion-led excursion on the Lively Lady lobster boat out of Camden Harbor.

Eight of Landing Place’s young clients signed up for One Night Without a Home. Two collapsed tents led to Joseph and staffer Kim Bernard driving some home, so by 6 a.m. their number was dwindled to three. One was a surprisingly sprightly 11-year-old who, in between bites of scrambled eggs and toast, said he had never camped out before. “The wind was banging on the tent, the church bells were ringing every hour. This was the most funnest thing I ever did in my life.”