I want to ask you to use your imagination for a minute.

Imagine you’ve lost your job. Then you lose your home. You have very little money and nowhere to live. You consider yourself fortunate if you’ve been able to hold onto a vehicle, because at least you have some shelter. You can sleep in there. You can lock the doors and feel somewhat safe, but it’s still pretty cold. You could run the heat but that takes gas. Gas requires money. So does food. You make a choice.

Or you might not have that vehicle. You might have to make it out there with not much more than what you can fit into a backpack. You try to find a safe place. A bridge, an overpass, or even a spot under someone’s eaves somewhere where you can get out of the weather. You might find space in a shelter sometimes, if you are in an area that has them. You probably live in the woods some of the time as well. There are two central thoughts that never leave you.

How am I going to get some food?

Am I in danger?

It is likely that you are struggling with depression or some other mental health issue. It’s difficult to envision a future where anything exists for you besides pain and suffering. This is your existence, and you don’t know how to get out.

Home is where the heart is.

Home is where the heart is.

Now imagine you have children.

It’s not just you anymore. You have a family, giant spirits in small bodies, that you need to protect. Everything you do is for them. You will spend so much time and effort trying to help them make it through the day, that you have little to spare to do what is necessary to make lasting improvements to your situation. If you find them somewhere safe, if they have food in their bellies when they lay their heads down, then things don’t seem as heavy. But if things don’t work out, and they go hungry, you feel a sense of failure like the weight of the universe. You just want them to be happy. You just want to keep your family together so you can have a future.

Too many homeless families don’t make it to that future together. Many parents faced with reality of living on the streets with their children are also faced with alternatives that often separate family members, such as having relatives care for children while a parent tries to find work and a home, or using shelter services. Many shelters separate older males from the rest of their family. How can we expect a family to heal if they aren’t together?
Healing and keeping families together is what Family Promise of North Idaho is all about. With a network of congregations, Family Promise treats homeless families as guests, welcoming them into area congregations and providing temporary housing and meals. They accomplish this with the help of nearly 550 volunteers working together to host and support these families. Support services include childcare, transportation, counseling, and job search assistance, all with the purpose of providing families with the safety and security that will allow them to put their energy into finding work and securing affordable housing.

Welcome to Cardboard City.

Welcome to Cardboard City.

Volunteers, donors, sponsors, and fundraisers got together Friday, Oct. 7 to build Cardboard City at Community United Methodist Church in Coeur d’Alene.  The idea behind Cardboard City is to give the youth in our community a sense of what it is like to live out in the elements with little protection, and to raise money in the process.  According to Board President Teri Burch, this event raises approximately $10,000 for Family Promise of North Idaho each year.

James Curb, Homeless Liaison for the Coeur d'Alene School District works on his roof while Jackson supervises.

James Curb, Homeless Liaison for the Coeur d’Alene School District works on his roof while Jackson supervises.

Gabby looks on as Kevin Garasky, Board Treasurer, works on some walls.

Gabby looks on as Kevin Garasky, Board Treasurer, works on some walls.

Mia in front with Sarai Mays, Indian Education Coordinator for Coeur d'Alene School District, and Queen Evan Lene.

Mia in front with Sarai Mays, Indian Education Coordinator for Coeur d’Alene School District, and Queen Evan Lene.

The clouds give way to a glorious sunset.

The clouds give way to a glorious sunset on the streets of Cardboard City.

After Mayor Steve Roberge of Dalton Gardens officially opened the city, everyone had soup made by volunteers, including several stone soups made by second graders from Fernan Elementary School.

Dishing up some soup.

Dishing up some soup.

Then Ruby spoke to everyone.

Ruby thanking Family Promise.

Ruby thanking Family Promise.

Ruby was able to move into housing in June thanks to Family Promise of North Idaho, and she came to recognize and thank them.  She spoke of the first time she walked in the door to her new place, when her “heart exploded with joy and peace, because this was my new home”.  She said the people she met made her feel like she could “share emotions without being judged or condemned”, and how important that was to her.  Executive Director Cindy Wood said that Family Promise hosts work so that guests are “met with unconditional love”.  Now, Ruby views Cindy as “more than the lady in charge, she’s a friend”.

Ruby smiles.

Ruby smiles.

 ...

This is a fact: 50% of the guests served by Family Promise are under the age of six.

I want you to use your imagination one more time.

Imagine you are six, or five, or maybe even younger, and you don’t know if you are going to have anything to eat, and you are going to have to sleep in that scary place again.
You can help kids like this and their families by volunteering and donating. Here is Alison Miller talking more about that: