More 70 people braved Storm Brian when they slept outdoors for the second annual Sleep-Out for Simon fundraising event for the homeless in O’Moore Park GAA grounds in Portlaoise.
Armed with sleeping bags, ground sheets, flasks and musical instruments the people bedded down underneath the stand after sing songs, hot drinks and sandwiches.
There had been doubts on Friday morning as to whether the major fundraising event for the Midlands Simon Community would go ahead or not. An emergency meeting was called by the organisers at midday on Friday at which it was decided that despite the predicted adverse weather conditions the sleep-out would go ahead as planned.
Over 100 students between Colaiste Íosagáin in Portarlington and Mountrath Community College participated in the sleep-out last year and had planned to again this year.
However, due to the serious nature of the weather warnings from Met Éireann it was decided that they would not sleep outside this year but still donate any funds that had been raised.
Michael Martin is Chairperson of the Laois Friends of Simon.
“In view of storm Brian we want to thank everyone who is here tonight and a big thank you to everyone who supported us in any way. It’s great to see so many people here despite such bad weather.
“The unfortunate reality is that homeless people don’t have a choice about the weather conditions they sleep outside in. Health and safety is paramount here tonight and no chances will be taken.
“We have a team of seven people here from the Order of Malta for the whole night along with many volunteers and stewards. A close eye will be kept on everyone throughout the night. Should any health or safety issue arise we’re very well prepared and if the weather gets bad people will be given the choice of sleeping along the corridors outside the dressing rooms.
“In the past 18 months in Laois we have taken 71 people out of homelessness. There’s much more involved than just giving a person a home and a key then leaving them to it. People also need a huge range of supports to be put in place for them. We provide a wide range of on-going services for the people that we assist,” he said.
In spite of the weather, secondary students did take part in the sleep-out. Amongst these was Sophie Whittaker and Aisling Brennan from Mountrath and Emmet Conroy from Emo. The students said that there is a major homelessness crisis which is getting worse by the day and that something has to be done to end it.
“It’ll be worse when we get older if attention is not paid to the problem now. There are empty houses everywhere, these should be used. People need to stop talking about the problem and start doing something to solve it,” said Sophie.
There were plenty of sandwiches and hot drinks. Everyone had cardboard to put under their sleeping bags thanks to the prisoners in Portlaoise Prison. Assistant governor Pat O’Sullivan attended.
“Fair play to the lads they’ve done a great job again this year and done themselves proud. The home economics class was busy in the prison today. The prisoners look on this as an opportunity to give something back to the community. For a variety of reasons many of the prisoners will depend on services such as the Midlands Simon Community when they are released,” he said.
Weather conditions started to get bad at around 5am on Saturday morning when strong winds and rain began to get heavy. At this stage people were wakened and asked to move into the corridors for shelter.
Event organisers are expecting the final fundraised figure to reach close to €15,000.