Hundreds sleep in boxes to help fight homelessness

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- With overnight temperatures in the Valley slipping into the 60’s Friday night, several hundred people climbed into cardboard boxes to get a taste of life on the streets.

Granted, in this case “the streets” are simulated by the lush, green outfield of the old Scottsdale Stadium and the cardboard houses are decorated for fun and fancy – built to resemble elaborate castles, ships and even the Eiffel Tower.

This is Cardboard City. 

It’s a fun event but the message remains a serious one.  The night is an effort by Family Promise of Greater Phoenix to bring awareness to - and fight - homelessness.

“A lot of the time the families that come to us are first time homeless,” said Lish Hammer with Family Promise. “So they just didn’t save up enough money or they had a medical problem and they didn’t save up so they came to us because they had no family here.”

For the 300 to 400 people who decided to sleep in the boxes, it’s a chance to experience just a slice of what it’s like to sleep without a warm, cozy bed and a roof overhead.  But for some who attended, it’s more personal.

“Myself, I was homeless once for about 9 months…. Yeah,” said Alisha Morris, adding the final strips of pink duct tape to her “two bedroom” cardboard house – complete with windows, faux-shingle roof and a door.

“Everybody has a sad story.  My sad story is [we] got kicked out at about 7 years old.  Me and my mom, nowhere to go, slept in the car,” she said, happily continuing work on her humble abode for the evening. 

The cheery stadium lights bathe the impromptu shantytown as Alisha smiles and speaks while tearing another piece of pink tape:

“My mom had an old Ford Mustang.  I’ll never forget that car… it kept us warm," she recalled.

Several recent estimates say that in Arizona about 22,000 people are homeless on any given night.  That statistic was in the crosshairs earlier this week when Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton announced a new city initiative aimed at getting 200 homeless families into permanent housing over the next three years.  It’s a “housing first” strategy that reorganizes city services to achieve its goals without needed additional funding.
As someone who says she now has a nice home, husband and two kids, Alisha is someone who believes that every little bit really does help.

“I think for some people, for some families, they want to give up hope but you don’t have to. There’s a way.  There’s a will and there’s a way,” she said.

Cardboard City raised $34,000 for Family Promise. That money will be used to help about 100 Valley families over the next year.