Last day to camp for homeless

Ben Cook was warming himself near a campfire a couple of nights ago when a van pulled up next to the lawn where he had pitched his tent to raise awareness about homelessness.

He said a teenage boy and a woman got out. The boy walked up and handed Cook $2.

"He said, 'I know this ain't much, but it's all we can afford,' " Cook said. "I didn't get their names. I wish I had. ... It just shows you the kind of people who are out there."

Cook has been camped out since Jan. 14 as part of the "Raise Your Tents" event, which is intended to give participants a taste of what it feels like to live outdoors in the winter, as many homeless people do.

It also serves as a fundraiser for the Union Gospel Mission in Pasco, which runs the only homeless shelter in the Tri-Cities. In 2010, the event raised more than $10,000 for the nonprofit mission.

Campers paid for a spot to pitch a tent on the lawn at Central United Protestant Church in Richland during the weeklong event, although some people paid or made a cash donation without actually camping, said Cook, who is one of the event's organizers.

With the campout set to wrap up today, Cook was unsure how much had been raised this year, but had a sense the week had gone well despite attracting fewer campers than last year.

Some people might have been deterred by the heavy winds seen in the Tri-Cities during the past week. Cook said several tents were blown over despite being fastened down with lines.

"That's just the way it is," he said. "It's the same thing the homeless go through. Unfortunately, they can't just pick up and go someplace else."

Church members will continue to collect donations of cash, food, blankets and warm clothing today.

They also will be throwing a pancake breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. to raise a few more dollars for services at the mission.

The breakfast will be inside the church's Fellowship Hall at 1124 Stevens Drive.