The Govans "sleep-out" vigil for the homeless is getting to be a regular event. And that's too bad, one of its organizers says.
"Homelessness is always a concern, but the need is greater this year, with the recession and the cuts in government social programs. We have the vigil to keep the public aware that the homelessness problem isn't going away," explains the Rev. John Lombardi of St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church.
The vigil will take place for the third consecutive year, starting at 7:30 tonight, on the front lawn of the church at 5500 York Road.
Lombardi, an associate pastor of St.Mary's, adds that the annual November vigil also has a positive side.
The event, organized by members of St. Mary's Justice and Peace Committee, "provides an outlet for people who want to do something for the homeless, who want to walk that walk with them," the priest says.
Participants can literally walk that walk for this year's sleep-out. For the first time, the event will include a march to four other churches along the York Road corridor -- Govans Presbyterian, Pleasant Hope Baptist, Gregory Memorial Baptist and Holy Comforter Lutheran.
After a half-hour service at St. Mary's at 7:30, the participants will march to the four churches. They will briefly stop at each church to read from the Bible and pray.
"The sleep-out idea was born at St. Mary's, but the other area churches have been involved from the first year," Lombardi says.
City social worker Carol Berman, shelter provider Bea Gaddy and Vincent Quayle, the director of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, are scheduled to speak at the 7:30 service.
The marchers will return to the St. Mary's lawn about 8:45 p.m. for another brief prayer. A soup and bread line will then be arranged for the marchers and local homeless people. Later, about 30 vigil participants will prepare sleeping bags and heavy blankets for the sleep-out.
The overnight weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid to upper 30s with some rain and a chance of light snow. The precipitation is expected to linger into tomorrow.
At the first vigil two years ago, 20 people slept overnight on the lawn. That figure increased to 30 last year, Lombardi says, adding that 75 to 100 people attended the main prayer service each year.
The priest also says several people will stay awake through the night to keep a protective watch over the sleepers.
The vigil will end at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, when doughnuts, coffee and a final prayer by Lombardi will be offered.