by Lindy Laird
Many people gave up warm, comfortable beds to kip down in the open at Saturday night's Hope for the Homeless sleepover but for a few there, Whangarei's Canopy Bridge is familiar night accommodation.
One person joining the sleepover told Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Trust chairman Adrian Whale it was the first time he had slept on top of the bridge, as he normally slept under it.
Mr Whale described the sleepover on the bridge as " the perfect sleepless night", with a wonderful atmosphere, singing, guitar playing, and hot soup and bread provided by Soul Food.
Well over 100 attended the event's pre-party which included cake-cutting and speeches.
About 65 people, from 6-year-olds to a couple in their 70s, who slept in their car then stayed the night for the inaugural event to highlight the problem of homelessness in the community and mark the housing trust's 10th anniversary.
Several of the trust's current and former tenants took part, Mr Whale said.
It was also a fundraiser for the trust, with people 16 and over paying $10 and children $5 for the privilege of sleeping out on a bridge on a very cold night.
Since 2006 the trust has helped more than 1500 people experiencing a housing crisis.
Mr Whale said when he arrived to work with the organisation eight years ago the trust's resources could not cope with the number of families needing their "landlord of last resort" service.
"This will change things on a local level," he said of Saturday's community reaction to the awareness-raising event.
"It set people talking, it was great for networking. People are keen to do it next year and hopefully it will become an annual thing."
The timing coincided with World Homelessness Day, held around October 10 every year.