Organizers of a walk this weekend in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, hope to raise funds to support stable housing for area residents in need.
Sunday’s Construct Inc. Walk 2013 marks the event’s 25th anniversary. Money raised by participants will go towards Construct’s Emergency Services Fund to provide resources for those who need help paying housing and car repair bills or buying a week’s worth of groceries. Susie Weekes is a Board Member at Construct and is chairing the walk. She says this year’s goal of raising $50,000 will allow Construct to meet the needs of the roughly 35 people who come into her office seeking assistance every day. Weekes says the organization fell short of its goal last year.
“I had to sit in the office the other day and listen to our Executive Director actually tell someone we could not help them until the money comes in,” Weekes said. “That’s very sad. It’s mostly our local workforce that turns to us for help.”
About 400 people are signed up for Sunday’s 4-mile stroll through Great Barrington, and will bring in roughly $20,000. But Weekes says most of the money is raised on the day of the event. Jo Grossman has been involved with the walk for the past six years and has currently raised $450.
“When you live in an urban area the face of homelessness is right there, you see them on the street corners,” Grossman said. “But in an idyllic area such as southern Berkshire County it’s not as obvious. You don’t know it. A lot of people don’t expect it because we are an area rich in culture, rich in second home owners. We have a certain amount of affluence around us in many ways. It’s surprising how many people can’t afford their apartments, don’t make enough money, there aren’t enough jobs and they do end up homeless.”
Weekes says South County saw an increase in those seeking financial assistance for everyday expenses because of the recession, forcing people to use up whatever savings they had. As a result, some still haven’t recovered. She adds increasing real estate values create larger tax revenues, but on the opposite end the need for affordable housing in the area continues to rise.
“This time of year we are always facing ‘What’s the winter going to be like?’ Weekes said. “If it’s a cold, snowy winter the challenges increase dramatically because everyone’s heating bills go up and their utilities go up. What often happens is, if you’re in your house and you have a choice between paying your rent or your heat, you’re probably going to decide to pay the heat.”
Weekes says most of the nearly 200 families or individuals her organization expects to help this year just need that little bit of additional support to make ends meet.
“No matter if you are sick, out of work, taking care of someone who is sick you still have to pay your rent, heat your house and buy groceries,” she said. “That’s where we can really step in and help out.”
Having lived in New York City and Los Angeles, Grossman says the walk makes people realize homelessness can be easily overlooked, especially in small, rural communities because those struggling are too proud to ask for help.
“People come back and say I’m walking because you helped my mother or I’m walking because you helped me three years ago,” Grossman said. “They come back and now walk for the cause.”