A small group of local teens braved the heat and rain on Friday night as they attempted to sleep outside in a “box city” to bring awareness to the homeless issue in Delaware County.
“While their numbers may have been small, they had a big message—the homeless need our help,” said Dolores Littleton, pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Havertown, whose church sponsored the youth group activity.
This is the second year that the youth group has done this to raise money for homeless programs.
Littleton said this exercise is meant to raise money for the Life Center, which is part of the Community Action Agency of Delaware County (CAADC), located in Upper Darby.
“Homeless shelters in Delaware County have lost a significant amount of federal funding and are in danger of closing down. The money we raise will go to help keep the homeless shelters, specifically the Life Center, open,” she said.
“Our church is very involved in helping the homeless and the kids are very involved as well. They have fun participating in the box city event and it is a learning experience for them as well. We raised just over $1,000 dollars last year and hope to raise more this year,” Littleton continued.
Ann Shiffer, a board member with the Save Our Shelter committee, which is affiliated with the CAADC, helped to organize the event.
“We are raising money to help keep the homeless centers in Delaware County open after a 25 percent cut in federal funding. One of the four shelters in Delaware County already closed last year and the other three in danger of closing. The money raised at this event will go towards a new roof for the Life Center.”
Shiffer said that each of the “box city” residents had to pay $6 for their box. They were able to decorate their box and tape it together to make it their home for the night.
The “box city” kids ranged in age from 12 to19 and are from different church youth groups in Delaware County.
Rachel Hennis, a seventh grader at Drexel Hill Middle School, was the youngest “box city” resident.
“This is my first time doing this and I thought it would be a good experience and to raise money to help the homeless. You learn how it would actually be to homeless," she said.
The youth had just finished making their homes and were eating a soup kitchen-type meal outside when Mother Nature brought in thunder, lightning and torrential rains, forcing the adult chaperones to bring the kids inside to safety.
Once inside, the kids discussed how it would be if they were really homeless and out in the rain.
Due to the lightning, the youth were not able to sleep in their boxes but slept in cars in the parking lot. Of the experience, Hennis said, “It was fun but I wouldn’t want to have to do it all the time.”
The group also made bagged lunches to be delivered to the Life Center the next day on Sunday. The group also listened to speakers from the Life Center, including a caseworker, a former and current resident, to speak about being homeless.
Nineteen-year-old Kristin Gdovin participated in the event last year and said she sees homelessness first hand living in Philadelphia.
“I see a lot of homelessness around campus and it makes it hit home. I want to help the Life Center stay open. They do a lot to help the homeless. When I stayed out last year, I did not sleep all night. I was shivering and smelled like a cardboard box. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to stay clean,” the dance major at Temple University said.
Gdovin also slept in a car for this year’s event and said, “it was rough, sleeping in a car is a lot harder than it sounds. I only managed to get about two hours of sleep.”
Art Tung, case manager at Life Center of Eastern Delaware County in Upper Darby, said the shelter houses 50 adults and helps people to rebuild their lives after homelessness.
“We deal with clients with a variety of issues including addiction, physical, mental, emotional and financial circumstances that led them to homelessness. We work to rebuild their self esteem and help them get back to being a productive member of society,” Tung explained.
Tom Arndt, a Marine veteran and former chaplain of a rescue mission in Florida, has been a resident of Life Center for nine months and was homeless for about two months before being able to get into the Life Center.
“I became homeless due to health issues. The Life Center has been a great help to me. They are helping me get back on my feet. I was homeless once before and never thought I would end up homeless again,” Arndt expressed.
Derick Hinton, a former resident of the Life Center, also spoke to the kids. Hinton was raised in North Philadelphia and was homeless for about four years.
“I became homeless after getting involved with drugs. My church helped me get into the Life Center. The Life Center helped me a whole lot. I try and give back now and to help others who are homeless. To let them know that things can get better if you try one day at a time,” he said.
Hinton continued, “When I came up to this church and saw those cardboard boxes, you don’t never forget that. I lived in at City Hall, in Love Park and other areas. It was rough. You had to fight a lot to keep your spot to sleep. I will never forget what it was like to be out in the cold and snow. It’s a great feeling now to be able to put a key in my front door.”
The box city event raised $1,000 and is still accepting donations. If anyone would like to know more about the shelter or to donate, visit their website at www.caadc.org
To find out more about Trinity Lutheran Church and their efforts to help the homeless, visit their website.