What seemed like fun to some — spending a night sleeping in a cardboard box — is reality to others. Family Promise of Las Vegas promoted awareness of the plight of homeless families April 26 with an event called Cardboard City 2014.
The fundraiser took place at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, 6670 W. Cheyenne Ave. Similar to walks that ask people to pledge an amount per mile covered, this event raised money for sleeping one night in a box.
“I’m pleased to see so many youths out here tonight,” said Terry Lindemann, executive director of Family Promise of Las Vegas. “Youths are our future. … Yet, there are 8,000 students in our school system who are classified as homeless.”
Tyrone Thompson, assemblyman for District 17, wore a shirt with “End Homelessness” written across the chest. He cited statistics: 33,000 in the community experienced some form of homelessness in 2013, and on any given night, there are 7,300 people on the streets.
Ward 4 Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony had a warning for anyone who wondered why they should care that anyone slept on the streets: “We could all be there one day.”
That a was a message Paradise resident Mike Antognazzi knew too well. Two years ago, he and his toddler son, Devlin, became homeless after he lost his job as a casino porter at Mandalay Bay.
“It was a big blow,” he said. “I wasn’t able to pay rent, pay power; I lost my apartment.”
It led to “couch surfing,” as he called it. For the next year, he said, he relied on friends and family to put them up for a few nights at a time. Although it was tough to admit he needed help, Antognazzi approached Family Promise, 320 S. Ninth St. There, he found assistance with shelter, but emphasized it was not a handout.
“They pushed us to go out the door every morning to look for work,” he said. “I knew I had 90 days, otherwise we’d be back on the street. Terry (Lindemann) kept telling me, ‘Keep your head up.’ “
He said he filled out more than 100 applications, and in February 2013, two weeks before his time was up with Family Promise, Lowe’s offered him a job in facility maintenance. He started working part-time but has since been made full-time, in part, he said, because “I busted my butt” to be a standout employee.
This was the sixth year the Cardboard City event has been held. Last year, it raised $23,000. This year, it raised more than $30,000. The money will go for various programs the nonprofit has for helping the homeless get back on their feet — sliding-scale rental assistance, bus passes, birth certificates, clothes and shoes. About 16 percent of the budget comes from grants, Lindemann said. The rest needs to be raised.
“We must ask people to help, as they can,” Lindemann said. “I believe everyone should just pick a cause. If homelessness is your issue, they can help us or other support agencies. I’m the kind of person who believes that it’s important for me to give back to my community.”
The night included live music from The Unwieldies and food. The Rev. Paul Hansen of Holy Spirit offered the blessing for the meal —hamburgers and traditional picnic salads, with veggie burgers for the more health-conscious.
Approximately 100 people signed up to raise money. Fewer than half that amount volunteered to sleep on the asphalt of the church’s parking lot. Most were teenagers affiliated with various churches.
The parking lot was abuzz with activity as teams emerged from the church and began setting up their accommodations.
One group from Reformation Lutheran Church, 580 E. St Louis Ave., spread a tarp on the ground. Youths arranged their boxes in a starburst pattern around it so their heads would be on the tarp. It was that church’s third involvement with Cardboard City. Youth leader Marissa Metevelis brought 10 students, two parents and one grade-school child to the event.
“What did I learn the first time? It helped me understand that, for many people in Las Vegas, this is a reality,” Metevelis said. “That it’s not fun and games. Our church is in downtown Las Vegas, and often people who have been sleeping on the streets will come in and worship with us. So, for me … part of being here is making my kids more sensitive to our neighbors at our church.”
Kyrie Lorfing, 12, had a box all to herself. Blankets covered the floor of it. She rigged a battery-powered lantern from the ceiling so she’d have light when she closed the flap.
“It’s being held up with duct tape,” she said.
Nearby, an E-Z Up, a pop-up shade cover, provided the roof for the group from The Lakes Lutheran Church, 8200 W. Sahara Ave. The youths erected cardboard walls around it and decorated it to look like stacked stones, their very own castle. Taller cardboard pieces were the corner towers, set off by flags, and a draw bridge feature was the only way to gain entry.
Rocio Suarez, 14, used an appliance box for her bed. It wasn’t long enough to accommodate her legs, so she demonstrated how she planned to sleep: on her back, with her legs resting atop the lip of the box. She’d cut a hole for her arm to slip through so she could flip the cover over herself. A U-shaped travel pillow cradled her neck.
In an area free of boxes and cars, some kids from Lakes Lutheran who finished early played catch with Velcro mitts.
“A lot of people ask, ‘What can I do?’ ” Lindemann said. “My answer to them is, ‘Do what you can.’ So, if what you can (do) is collect $25 and come out to sleep in a box to raise awareness that families are homeless, then that’s what you do. I believe that’s what we need to do to have a nice community to live in.”
For more information about Family Promise of Las Vegas, visit familypromiselv.com.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.