Tri-Citians can get a peek at what it's like to be homeless during the winter.
Those wanting to raise awareness about homelessness will camp out Wednesday through Saturday in tents pitched next to Central United Protestant Church in Richland as part of the third annual Raise Your Tents event.
And as others pass the corner of Williams Boulevard and Stevens Drive, it will serve as a visual reminder that some Tri-Citians lack a home, said Andrew Porter, assistant executive director for the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission.
The mission, the area's only homeless shelter for men, women and children, is full, he said. Although men haven't been turned away because of space yet this year, women and children are weekly.
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The Raise Your Tents event raises money and supplies for the mission.
Renting a plot of land for a tent costs $50 and includes a hooded sweatshirt, said Ben Cook of Kennewick, who coordinates the event. Each additional sweatshirt is $35.
For the past two years, Cook said more than $17,000 has been raised for the mission, which doesn't include donations of food, clothing and blankets.
Camping out isn't necessary to donate, he said. There is a tent outside the church where people can drop off clothes and food donations for the mission.
Without the mission and the help of other agencies, the only option for some people to sleep is outside, Porter said.
A lot of people end up homeless, and it isn't always because of drugs or alcohol, Porter said. It can be an injury, illness or any number of things.
"Usually everybody here is somebody's family member," he said.
He also cites this example: there is a family who has been coming to eat at the mission because the father, who had a job, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The man has undergone surgery and chemotherapy and can no longer work. By the end of this month, the family will have run through their savings.
There were about 453 homeless people counted in the Tri-Cities on one day last January, including 23 who were sleeping on the street, according to the annual survey overseen by Community Action Connections, or CAC.
The survey doesn't include everyone who is homeless at that time, but is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is used to identify what services a community needs.
The mission is a community asset, Porter said. There are some communities where there isn't a place that provides showers, clean clothes or a bite to eat.
The mission plans to build a new men's shelter in Pasco. Porter expects construction to start fall 2013.
"Everything we do here is supported by the community," he said.
Cook said he doesn't think homelessness can be completely eliminated.
"But we can try and help those who really want to get out of their predicament," he said.
And it's terrible to hear that veterans, who have gone into harm's way for American freedom, are living on the streets, Cook said.
A taco feed will be at 5 p.m. Thursday, and is open to the public.
Everyone is welcome to the pancake feed that will end the event on Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m., Cook said. Food will be available by donation.
For more information or to register, go to http://on.fb.me/ raiseyourtents. Registration forms are also available at Central United Protestant Church, 1124 Stevens Drive, in Richland.