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What would it be like to be homeless, to have no place to sleep except for a cardboard box?
That’s what an unusual fundraiser for a local men’s shelter is all about, to let people experience that for themselves first hand, said Lee Bean, founder and operator of The Open Door of Hope.
Bean has been gathering empty appliance boxes donated from local businesses and will use them next month at a fundraising event he will hold in the parking lot of the Shelby County Public Library on Sept. 16.
His plan is to rent the boxes out at $30 each to people who will sleep in them overnight in the parking lot.
Sound like fun?
Maybe not, but he thinks it would be a great way to raise public awareness of the problem of homelessness, and at the same time to raise money for the shelter.
“We have not gotten any reservations yet; we have just begun to send out mailing.” he said. “There’s a group in E-Town that runs a soup kitchen, and this is the fundraiser they do for their ministry.
“It is very successful there, and pretty much carries them through the year, so I thought it might go over pretty well here.”
Bean said that he has gotten some good feedback on the idea.
“Everybody that I’ve talked to about it seems interested,” he said. “I’d like to do it every year. I think it would be a good community event, not only to make people more aware of the problem of homelessness, but also to make the public aware of what we do here.”
The shelter is currently located in a comfortable, 2-story house at 211 8th Street, across the street from the public library. Bean moved the facility there last fall from Henry Clay Street, where in November 2009 he had established Shelbyville’s first men’s shelter in a small, cramped apartment with a small white cross painted on the door.
Standing in the backyard of the new shelter, a white frame house, he gestured at a well-tended and substantial vegetable garden loaded with tall tomato plants and sprawling green bean vines.
“The men planted this garden, and they work it, and it has been very productive,” he said. “We have a lot of tomatoes, and we canned 19 quarts of green beans last week.”
Bean, who left his pastorship at Dove Baptist Church to run the shelter full-time, said he is very pleased with new place and with how its residents have been progressing.
“We are at capacity here, with 13 men, and the majority of them have gotten jobs since they came to us,” he said. “Also, nine of them participate in a Bible study class we have in the evenings.”
The top floor of the house is under renovation, Bean said, adding that when it is completed early next year, it will serve as a rehab facility for men with addictions.
“Right now, we have put new windows in, and we have had some church groups helping out with painting and some other things,” he said.
The shelter’s budget is about $1,200 per month, and Bean said he appreciates all the help he has gotten from organizations and churches in the community who help keep the shelter supplied with food and other necessities.
He is hoping the fundraiser will prove to be a great help with the shelter’s expenses, especially when its rehab center opens.
Even though he admits that the practice of living in cardboard boxes is something typically seen in large cities like Lexington and Louisville, he hopes the concept will help raise the awareness of the plight of the homeless, which is a growing problem in Shelbyville, which he estimates has a population of about 50 homeless men.
“Around here, they live mostly under the bridge and under abandoned houses,” he said. “But the box concept still gives people the idea of what is going on that they don’t normally see.”
He added that in addition to paying their $30, he encourages people to raise pledges over and above that base rent. Participants will sleep in boxes overnight with only a couple of necessities.
In order to get the feel of the real life experience, no one will be allowed to bring electronic devices, except for a cell phone to use for emergency calls only. People will be furnished with a sleeping bag and pillow if they desire, he said.
Bean said the event is open to all ages, and there will be free T-shirts for participants as well as prizes for those who raise the most rent.
He added that no one need worry about the safety aspect of sleeping outdoors in a public place, as an off-duty police officer from Louisville will be on hand at the event all night.
The Finchville Ruritan Club will be supplying hotdogs and hamburgers to be sold at the event, and Shelby County Magistrate Mike Whitehouse, who is a member and past president of the club, said he was glad to be able to help.
“I am also on the shelter’s board, and we are really excited about this, because what better cause to support than to help people who are down and out,” he said.
The residents of The Open Door of Hope also think the event is a great idea because anything that helps to support the facility is good thing, they say.
“This place gives people the chance to get away from the ice and the cold, and it helps to get you back on your feet,” Michael Clare said.
Another resident, Mike Reid, agreed.
“Without this men’s shelter, this cardboard box could be a reality for me every night,” he said, holding up one of the folded-up boxes. “I really think this will be a great thing for people to experience, because a lot of times, people don’t really realize what they have.”
When:7 p.m.-7 a.m., Sept. 26
Where:Shelby County Public Library parking lot
Registration:Call Lee Bean at 502-552-8669 by Sept. 1