Homeless Again: Cardboard Box City 2009 Recap

So last Thursday I spent the night outside. It was part of Cardboard Box City, an event designed to raise money and support for homeless shelters in the Twin Cities. We raise money for two emergency overflow shelters for families, Families Moving Forward and Project Home, and then sleep outside to get a tiny taste of what homelessness is really like.

Thursday morning it snowed. The overnight low was 35 with a 30-40% chance of precipitation. This year it was moist, but the snow and rain mostly held off. Last year I didn’t dress warmly enough (I foolishly packed lightly) so this year I beat the cold with seven layers on top and four on bottom. Last year when I did this I got sick and had an awful night. This year I managed to stay healthy, but I still didn’t have fun.

Homelessness sucks. There’s no putting a pretty spin on it. After my tiny glimpse of homeless life I got to go home. All my needs were met and I didn’t have to worry about my next meal, my next place to stay, what would happen to my kids or even deal with the emotional crisis that goes along with losing everything.

While I’m not a big fan of the Cardboard Box City event itself (it’s designed for teenagers, so they have a DJ, prizes and a band—something about a dance party for the homeless where you can win a gift card to Jimmy Johns is so terribly wrong), I love the organizations it raises money for. My favorite part of the night is when the organizers get up to talk about homelessness and they share somes stats and play audio from their answering maching. It’s family after family leaving messages and begging for a place to stay. It’s brutal. Some of the facts:

  • 60% of the people served by these shelters are kids.
  • The youngest person in the shelter Thursday night was 3 months old.
  • Families moving forward had a 58% success rate last year (moving families from shelters into homes) and a 92% rate overall. Project Home serves families on a shorter term basis and they’re usually transferred back to the Ramsey County Shelter where 80-90% obtain housing.
  • These organizations used to receive 25 calls a month from families needing a place to stay. Now they get 300 calls every month.

The Star Tribune recently covered homelessness in the Twin Cities and the stats aren’t pretty:

  • Twin Cities homeless shelters used to be cyclical. “Now we’re just staying at capacity. We have been since July 2007.”
  • “[Twin Cities homeless shelters] were full before the economy went sour. Now we’re beyond full.”
  • Homeless man wins the ‘lottery’ and gets a temp bed for 28 days: “Now I can concentrate on getting a job.”

The homeless situation is getting worse and it’s not the stereotypical image of a chronically homeless person at the exit ramp. Families are homeless. Kids are homeless. And most of them just need a little help to get back on their feet.

Big thanks to the people who already donated. If you haven’t already, you can still donate. To learn more about homelessness I strongly recommend you check out InvisiblePeople.tv.

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