Sleep out brings back memories

HANNAH SPYKSMA
Last updated 08:30 27/06/2012
Sleepout
JASON OXENHAM
REFLECTING: Lifewise volunteer Vernon Sorenson is sleeping rough tomorrow night but this time it's a choice.

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Vernon Sorenson met his pet mouse at 4pm one chilly afternoon when he was tucked up in bed to keep warm.

The creature had the right idea – it was so cold in the unheated boarding hostel room that it crawled into the warmest space it could find, a mouse-sized pocket made by the man's curled hand.

Unfortunately, the friendship didn't last for too long as Mr Sorenson was kicked out of his run-down room soon after. He then spent almost three weeks sleeping rough before he stumbled into Lifewise's former Soup Kitchen and was given help to find adequate housing.

That was almost two years ago and the pet mouse seems a fading memory to Mr Sorenson who's been housed since then.

But he will bring those memories back up tomorrow evening when he shares his story during Lifewise's Big Sleep Out.

The event is the Newton charity's main fundraising drive for the year as it receives next to no government funding.

More than 60 well known New Zealand personalities will sleep rough in an undisclosed central city location for the night, in a bid to raise awareness and funds for the organisation's frontline work with marginalised Kiwis. Money goes towards providing homes, jobs, and opportunities for those who find themselves on the street. So far this year more than $80,000 has been raised through the event.

General manager John McCarthy says the concept is about being proactive rather than complacent when it comes to addressing issues around homelessness.

"It's so easy to keep doing what you're doing because it works.

"But if you step back and think about homelessness as a wider problem we haven't yet got it organised as a community to solve these problems."

The centre rebranded itself in 2010 and changed its focus from helping people survive on the streets to proactively trying to house those people.

Changes include a move from Airedale St to Karangahape Rd and the creation of a hub where Merge Cafe employs four formerly homeless people thanks to funding from the previous two Big Sleep Out evenings.

Mr Sorenson is now a volunteer at Lifewise and his story is an example of how the changes are working, Mr McCarthy says.

The manager hopes that having Mr Sorenson tell his story during the Big Sleep Out will personalise the event and remind attendees that there's always more work to be done.

As for Mr Sorenson himself, who is also sleeping rough during the event, this time it's a choice.

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"It's about giving back what was given to me and letting people know there's a way out," Mr Sorenson says. "When you hit rock bottom you have to reach out to people."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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