By Cindy Zomar, Contributing Writer
Westborough – As a New England contractor, John Bogaert has worked in all temperatures, and even enjoys camping out in the winter. What bothers him, however, is realizing that there are people who don’t have a choice about sleeping outside.
“It is hard getting through the night in extreme temperatures even with cold weather gear, so I’ve often wondered how people experiencing homelessness can survive in frigid temperatures. I thought that if I could sleep outside overnight for a great cause, it would raise awareness of their plight. I shared the idea with my friend Scott Henderson, and he was immediately on board,” explained Bogaert.
Out of sight, out of mind
Henderson admits that while living in Westborough he is not confronted with homelessness on a daily basis.
“When I travel to Boston or Worcester, I’m reminded of their plight. I’ll typically give one $20, and pretend to not see the rest, as if I’ve done my duty for the day. My kids would just stare in disbelief,” he said. “Then we’d all go home and forget again. Except sometimes, on a particularly cold and windy day, when I find myself sprinting from my car to the grocery store, I’ll remember that there are people who will be outside all day and night. So, I agreed to join John and try it for myself.”
Feb. 27 All-Nighter
The two men have chosen to camp out for 24 hours at 45 East Main Street, Westborough from Saturday, Feb. 27, 10 a.m. through Sunday, Feb. 28 at 10 a.m., sleeping in boxes donated by Hudson Appliance. It is a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Coalition for The Homeless which has, for 38 years, worked to provide basic supplies to those in need. Due to the pandemic, the numbers of those seeking shelter, job training, medical care, fighting addiction or without a home has skyrocketed.
“Numbers fluctuate, but the number of people that are experiencing homelessness on a given day in Massachusetts has peaked at over 20,000 in the last few years,” Bogaert added.
Giving it a face
They chose to learn more about homelessness by speaking with someone living it every day. Bogaert shared, “We found a homeless man named Tony out on the streets of Worcester. Tony has been homeless for five years, in and out of shelters. He is a high functioning, likeable, relatable person. After explaining our mission to him, he agreed to help us better understand his situation and to be part of this fight to help. The one thing that Tony said that tore at our heartstrings was when he was asked what he needed or what we could get for him, he answered, ‘friendship.’ We met again and brought a few items. His response was, ‘Thank you for treating me like a human.’ It’s sad to think of the interactions with society that make him feel like he needs to make such a comment.”
How to donate
Based on estimates, there will be between 600 and 1,000 people without shelter in Massachusetts on Feb. 27, but not by their choice. To that end, Bogaert and Henderson hope that people will choose to donate to donate2homeless.org or come by and make a touchless donation using their phone.
“After this rough year, it is great to see the amazing generosity in our community. Thank you all,” added Bogaert.
Click here for more Westborough news.