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One-night Cardboard Box Cities raises awareness

By Kaye Hult

Cardboard Box Cities will materialize at 5 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, and be up overnight until 8 a.m. Saturday in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. 

Cardboard box Cities

The young son of a Family Promise Americorps assistant
painted a box for the Coeur d'Alene Box City 2011.

Family Promise across the United States uses this approach to raise awareness and funds to serve homeless people.

It’s the fourth year for Family Promise in Coeur d’Alene to sponsor the event.

In Spokane, it’s the first year, and Family Promise, formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network, is partnering with other homeless outreach programs, Mission Community Outreach Center and Shalom Ministries.

Coeur d’Alene participants will set up cardboard boxes they have decorated as their shelters at Lake City Community Church, 6000 N. Ramsey Rd.  The event has its own “city planner,” a civil engineer who will help lay out the city.  Corporate sponsors will have their own street signs.

At 7 p.m., after a 6 p.m. dinner, Reborn Kingdom, winner of Battle of the Bands for Christ, will perform, a Family Promise graduate will offer a testimony, and there will be cardboard box house judging, interviews and awards.

Spokane participants will set up their shelters at Highland Park United Methodist Church, 611 S. Garfield St.  After a soup-line dinner at 6 p.m., there will be live music, testimonies and recognition until 9 p.m.

Bob Peeler, homeless family development coach for Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners, will speak about homelessness.  Leslie Camden Goold, the Central Valley School District homeless liaison, will talk about how homelessness affects young people.  A teenager, Emma, whose family once went through the Family Promise program, will share her experience.

In both cities, lights out is at 10 p.m. and breakfast will be served in the morning before participants leave at 8 a.m.

Cardboard Box Cities raise the awareness of youth, families and others who participate about how challenging it is to live when one has no home. 

Participants bring bedding, pajamas, flashlights and whatever they need for the night.  Neither disruptive electronic equipment nor alcoholic beverages are permitted.

Often, in the four years groups in Coeur d’Alene have spent the night at Cardboard Box City, there has been rain or snow. 

“It is not that easy to find a cardboard box or other shelter when it is cold,” said Cindy Wood, director of Family Promise of North Idaho.  “What happens when someone is homeless and the weather is inclement?  Sometimes an individual gets sick and realizes there is no extra bedding or clothes to swap for the soiled ones.  What happens if children are afraid, or if someone scary takes up residence nearby?  When one is homeless, these scenarios occur, and resources are few for dealing with them.  In reality, both of these sites are set up to be safe and secure.”

Madelyn Bafus, director of Family Promise of Spokane, said children are the important part of the equation.  Family Promise serves the children and whoever lives with them—parents, grandparents, siblings, single fathers or single mothers.  Family homelessness is the fastest growing segment in the homeless population, she said.  One out of every four homeless people is a child.

Family Promise seeks to break the cycle of homelessness with the child.  That way, the next generation will have a better life.  Madelyn said, “If it’s not good for the child, it’s not good for us.”

Cindy said that “one reason we want congregations that work with us regularly to be part of this experience is that once they are there, they realize all the choices they have in comparison to a homeless person.  They realize the life-saving work they are doing.

“Family Promise helps keep families together, so they don’t have to make tough decisions about how to keep all their members safe,” she said.  “Families try so hard to make it, yet often are not able to do so.  Many live in fear of losing their children.  Family Promise says to them, ‘Don’t put your family in danger.  Work through us and be safe.’”

Family Promise of Spokane is partnering with Mission Community Outreach Center and Shalom Ministries to demonstrate the teaching in Matthew 25:35-36, when Jesus said, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” 

Family Promise houses homeless families in churches for a week at a time.  Each week in Spokane, one of the 12 host churches and several of the 21 support churches provide shelter, food and overnight support.

Mission Community Outreach Center provides low-income and homeless people with clothing, hygiene items and necessities for infants.

Shalom Ministries feeds homeless people downtown at Central United Methodist Church.

The three ministries often collaborate.

Mark Kinney, executive director of Mission Community Outreach Center, said, “It’s a smart partnership.  These days, resources are scarce, so why duplicate?”

Mission Community Outreach provides clients with two sets of clothing, shoes and a jacket, every 60 days.  It offers household items, blankets, linens and towels.

It serves victims of domestic violence, people burned out of their homes, refugees and others.

For infants and children under four, the program provides diapers, wipes, formula and infant hygiene items every 30 days.  In 2011, Mission Community Outreach gave out 34,000 diapers.  In 2012, they have already provided 15 percent more.

Recently, the center gave out 541 pairs of new shoes, donated by people in area churches, to children in grades K-12.

Before Christmas, it offers a Christmas shopping event so parents can pick out an outfit and book for each child. 

Shalom Ministries reaches out through its Dining with Dignity program, serving breakfast four days a week and dinner twice a week.  Clients are served at tables.  It serves 2,000 to 3,000 meals a month.

The program also provides health screenings through the Washington State University nursing program, relationship building, information and referrals, a clothing bank, hygiene items, free community voice mail and free monthly bus passes in partnership with Spokane Neighborhood Action Program.

Madelyn brought these agencies together. 

“We’re all faith-based, the faith community doing hands-on mission,” she said.  “We have a connection within churches.  We are taking the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ, as the saying goes, “walking our talk.”

To participate in the Coeur d’Alene event, attendees recruit at least five sponsors who donate a minimum of $5.  If they have ten sponsors or raise $100, they will receive a T-shirt.  Others may purchase the shirt.

To participate in the Spokane event, attendees must raise at least $100 in donations for “rent.”

For information in Coeur d’Alene, call 208-661-2776 or visit

For information in Spokane, call 747-5487 or visit