Homeless for the night

A small city of cardboard boxes and tents sprouted Friday afternoon on the campus of Iowa Central Community College for the third annual Think Inside the Box homeless awareness event.

Each would house one or two bundled up people for the night.

They have no heat, no lights, no running water and nothing to look at on the walls but the logo of the company that packed its product in their temporary shelter.

Jacilyn Valero, of Lu Verne, and her friend Abby Paine, of Duncombe, were lucky enough to have a tent for the night.

For Valero, that was not always the case.

“I was homeless with my mom and siblings,” she said.

Her experience happened after her family relocated in the Spokane, Wash., area from Seattle.

“We had shelters that we stayed in,” she said. “The Salvation Army and various church groups helped us out.”

She said that most people have a stereotype of how homeless people act and how they end up that way. Valero encourages people to have more empathy and to realize it could happen to them as well.

“Try to be more understanding,” she said. “It could happen pretty fast.”

Miguel Hernandez, of Storm Lake, and Daniela Resendiz, of Schaller, worked on building a shelter nearby. Their construction materials were corrugated cardboard, duct tape and newspaper. The later is supposed to add insulation value.

“We did make it two layers,” Hernandez said. “We have more in our car.”

For Resendiz, the experience was only part of the learning process. She said that studying the issue in several of her classes and touring the local Beacon of Hope men’s shelter was an eye-opener.

“Before, I was a little judgmental,” she said.

She learned that many of the shelter’s residents are working to overcome addictions and that they keep busy.

“The men do have a job,” she said. “They do work.”

Bonita Harold, an instructor at Iowa Central, organizes the Think Inside the Box event.

All six of her classes are involved.

“My classes are service-oriented,” she said. “They have to apply it.”

The event is also a fundraiser. Harold is hoping to raise $10,000 this year, with all of the proceeds going to the Beacon of Hope.

About 200 people were expected to attempt the 14-hour overnight stay.

“Last year we had over 100 make it,” she said.

Harold said many participants have a common reaction to spending the night in a box.

“I knew that I could go home,” she said. “The homeless, they don’t have that.”

During the night, the residents of the cardboard city would hear the stories of men living at the Beacon of Hope, take part in a candlelight vigil, and warm themselves at a couple of camp fires.

But late Friday afternoon, Daniel Fandeh, of Des Moines, was facing a pile of small boxes that needed to become one big box.

“I’ll put something together,” he said.

He was dressed for the long night ahead.

“I’ve got three jackets, two sweatpants and three pair of socks on,” he said.

Fandeh has also experienced not having a home – under trying circumstances as a refugee with his family in Liberia.

That’s changed now; he has his own bed to return to.

“It’s comforting,” he said.