BRATTLEBORO — Tents lined the Brattleboro Common on Friday evening to address a community concern.
Groundworks Collaborative hosted its fourth annual Camp For A Common Cause event, which included live music, local food, conversations among attendees and fundraising. Organizers raised $19,000 from community partners and individual donations, exceeding their goal by $4,000. The money is used to support Groundworks' efforts to house neighbors experiencing homelessness.
"In a rural place like southeastern Vermont, when folks camp out, they're back in the woods, you don't see them," said Groundworks Executive Director Joshua Davis. "So what we're wanting to do is put tents on the Common so it's very a very visible exercise that says, 'hey, there are people that don't have a place to go, this is what it looks like."
The money raised from the annual campout goes toward Groundworks' programs, which includes the region's largest food shelf that serves about 1,000 people a month, and the Groundworks Shelter which hosts 30 beds all year round and has a "constant waiting list," according to Davis. Groundworks also has a seasonal overflow shelter that houses about 20 people per night between November and April, according to Rhianna Kendrick, director of operations of Groundworks.
Davis notes that when the shelter closes, the staff hands out tents to individuals who do not have a place to stay.
All sorts of community members attended Friday evening's event, including those that utilize Groundworks' services.
"I've been homeless on and off for about 15 years, and I think if everyone in the town knew about [homelessness], they'd be more understanding," said Larry Shaida. "I want people to know what they go through, they get kicked out of stores because they're trying to get warm when it's cold out, and just a little more respect."
Shaida said Groundworks helped him "get off the streets" as now he lives in an apartment in Brattleboro. He added that prior to this apartment he had a challenging time finding a place to live.
"They'd (landlords) would look at me and say, 'no,'" Shaida said. "So I hope this event really wakes people up."
Groundworks Collaborative was established in 2015 following the merger of Morningside Shelter and the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center, which had been in existence for 27 and 36 years, respectively. At the Camp for a Common Cause event in 2013, organizers raised nearly $10,000, and close to $9,000 in 2014. Davis mentioned the goal this year increased mainly because Groundworks' budget has grown "significantly."
"Our bottom line now, we have just over a million dollars in expenses. And so it's just as much to raise the capital we need to run the operation as it is to raise awareness," said Davis.
Kendrick noted another issue among the homeless: Brattleboro's ordinance that prevents camping on public property.
"It's a constant negotiation of finding spots for people that are going to be keep them out of sight so there are no major complaints and so people feel safe," said Kendrick.
Event attendees, whether camping or not, enjoyed live music from Groove Prophet, a local rock and R&B cover band, which has dedicated its time and music abilities to this event for the past three years. Participating campers were asked to raise a suggested minimum of $100 per person, or $250 per team to support Groundworks' efforts.
The team that raised the most money for Camp for a Common Cause was the Brattleboro Sunrise Rotary with $2,155. The top individual fundraiser was Chad Farnum with $2,775.
"Everyone that we serve are individuals in our community, they are our neighbors and everyone deserves food and shelter as basic rights, something I strongly believe in," said Kendrick."That is something I think Groundworks does that works well and they have the flexibility to really advocate for the folks that we serve."
The development director, Libby Bennett, said the work they do is important to her because she is a strong believer in social justice and she came out of school knowing she wanted to be involved in service.
"It's a good position to be in to know you're serving the community and making a difference," said Bennett.
For more information about Groundworks Collaborative contact Libby Bennett at lbennett@groundworksVT.org or 802-257-0066, ext. 1101.
"It's a challenge to make sure there are services available that meet the needs of everyone because there's no one size fits all," said Kendrick. "Each person is an individual case, and even though the stories may be similar, there are different needs."
Maddi Shaw 802-254-2311 ext 275