Freezing for a cause: NH pastor sleeps outdoors to support homeless

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January 23, 2014, 6:30 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Lyme, N.H.) - The Rev. Steve Gehlert has slept outside the Lyme, N.H. Congregational Church each night this week, in frigid temperatures, to illustrate a point about homelessness. "It's to help other people think about what homeless people are going through," Gehlert explained.

Gehlert said he is an experienced backpacker and camper. He has been spending his nights outdoors in two sleeping bags, enduring sub-zero cold several nights. "It's a relentless situation that has to wear people down, because you get tired, your energy is drained, and every step of the way through the day is a struggle," Gehlert said of winter weather’s impact on the homeless.

Renee Weeks, the director of shelter and clinical services at the Upper Valley Haven in nearby White River Junction, Vt., applauded Gehlert's demonstration. "The need is great," she told New England Cable News.

Weeks said this week, the Upper Valley Haven launched a new warming space initiative to give snacks to homeless people and get them out of the cold at night. In addition to that project, the non-profit group's 21 shelter beds for homeless adults and rooms for eight homeless families are always full, with a waiting list, Weeks said. "It's not just when the weather's cold, it's 365 nights a year," she added.

Gehlert told NECN he considers himself lucky to be able to take a hot shower every morning and work inside during the day. Those are luxuries, he suggested, most homeless people do not have. He said he will continue his project through Saturday night.

Gehlert said he hopes his nights outside send a message to people everywhere to support the needy and volunteer for service agencies like the Upper Valley Haven. "There are people in need around us," Gehlert said. "We have responsibilities to our neighbors for justice and equality and just basic care and compassion."

Click here for more information on the Upper Valley Haven.

Tags: new hampshire, vermont, cold weather , Jack Thurston, White River Junction, Lyme, Steve Gehlert, Lyme Congregation Church, homelessness awareness, winter camping, Renee Weeks, Upper Valley Haven
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