An exact number of how many people are homeless in Alaska is difficult to calculate. The Mat-Su Borough School District estimates up to 800 children face homelessness. And on any given night, there are 60 to 80 families in the Valley struggling to find shelter, according to Family Promise.
The Wasilla-based organization’s yearly fundraiser – ‘Cardboard City’ – was held Friday night at the Alaska State Fairgrounds. Dozens of participants gathered pledges and built cardboard structures, with the larger goal of raising awareness for the Mat-Su homeless population.
The shelters constructed this year ranged from simple to complex.
“Winging it,” said Tommy. “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing,” said the 18-year-old as he wrestled with duct tape and scissors.
But other participants came prepared. “My dad is a civil engineer,” said Becca Coleman, who brought measurements and a mini model of her planned shelter. “Make it structurally sound,” she said.
It might sound like a fun night of camping, but the significance isn’t lost on Coleman.
“You just never know what circumstance, be it an injury or the economy laying people off, you just never no what moment is going to turn your world upside down,” she said.
The money raised by ‘Cardboard City’ on Friday will help parents who’ve fallen on hard times.
“Over night it happened to us and we had nothing,” said mom of three Katie Bryan, whose husband Devin lost his job in January 2013. “So we were on welfare and were able to stay for a little bit but once the lease was up we had to leave.”
Katie was pregnant with her third child, Leeray.
“We were running out of help, we were in a tight situation,” said Devin Bryan.
With nowhere else to go, the couple turned to Family Promise, who provided the couple and their three children, including the newborn, with private accommodation. The Bryan’s also had help buying diapers, clothing and gas. It was enough for them to get back on their feet, and within two months the family of five were out of the shelter and Devin found work.
“They helped us get car insurance so that we could get a vehicle to go back and forth to work,” said Devin.
“We are back in our own place again, my husband has a good job and I couldn’t ask for anything else,” said Katie.
While Katie and Devin played with their three sons around Cardboard City, Will Sandidge, a junior at Colony High, was part of a group of students that broadcasted live from a ‘studio’ made out of cardboard. Their show – ‘Teen Talk’ – was heard over 89.5FM.
The sleep-out fundraiser ended at 8am Saturday morning.