Advocate sleeping in church parking lot to draw attention to homelessness

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — An advocate for the homeless will be sleeping in a church parking lot in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle this weekend.

Nathaniel Payton’s goal is to draw attention to the need for help for those who need a roof over their head. He founded a nonprofit called Blessing Box to help the homeless in Martinsburg and other communities outside of the Mountain State.

“It’s a mix of domestic violence issues, you know, substance abuse issues, and a lot of health issues,” Payton said.

Payton’s Blessing Box mission collects personal hygiene items and puts them in converted newspaper vending boxes in downtown neighborhoods. Along with a wrapped bar of soap from a recent hotel stay, toothpaste and a toothbrush, literature is available with contacts for local support services like the West Virginia DHHR or an empowerment center.

In challenging economic times, especially during the pandemic, going from having a home to being homeless can happen overnight.

“The average American doesn’t have $1,000 saved for an emergency,” said Payton, “so a lot of people are 1 or 2 paychecks away from being homeless.”

Rural homelessness is especially pronounced, Payton said. For children, it is especially difficult.

“That was part of the consideration that the school system went through in deciding when to shut down during COVID,” Payton explained, “because there are a lot of kids who — schools are the only time they’re getting their meals.”

Right now, Payton estimates 300 to 400 people in Martinsburg will not have a roof over their head tonight. He says that building partnerships with Blessing Box will help reduce the burden of homelessness.

Payton will stream his overnight-on-the-streets experience on Facebook, hoping to bring more awareness to the need for help for the homeless community.

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