Last Thursday, October 9 our new congregation had the privilege of partnering with Blaine High School in participating in a Box City. The purpose of the event was to lift up the issue of homelessness among teenagers in Anoka County.
The statistics are staggering. Nine hundred twenty five students were identified as homeless in the Anoka-Hennepin School district in the 2013-2014 school year; one hundred sixty eight have been identified as unaccompanied youth — kids who are living on their own; forty six students were identified as homeless in Blaine High School in the 2013-2014 school year.
Research from the Wilder Foundation on youth homelessness in Minnesota indicates:
· About 50% were physically abused,
· 1 in 3 was neglected,
· 1 in 4 was sexually abused as a child, and
· 58% of them have had at least one placement in a foster home, group home, or facility for persons with emotional, behavioral, or mental problems.
Hope for Youth, a new drop-in center for homeless teens in Anoka had 2,027 visits in May, June & July from youth.
Despite these statistics many people in Anoka County are unaware that so many teens in our area are identified as homeless. To create a community where no teenagers suffer from homelessness an important first step is creating awareness. Thus we organized this Box City.
We worked on the Box City for the past five months. The partnership between the school and our church was wonderful. The school provided the location and recruited about 40 students who slept in a box. Our congregation provided adult volunteers, solicited money in the community, and provided logistics—the most important logistic was the boxes. We had five folks who slept in a box and another five who spent a significant time at the event last Thursday evening.
Because this was a partnership with the school the folks from our congregation didn’t talk about Jesus, but there was no doubt that we were displaying his love at the Box City.
The event started out with some very moving talks. Trinity shared her story of being homeless. She slept in a tent for two years—that’s two Minnesota winters. More of her story can be viewed at vimeo.com/m/86919682. Today Trinity has a job and is living in a small town near the Cities. Jerry Streich shared his story of being homeless as a teenager. He talked about the boxes that we put ourselves in and the boxes that homeless teens have to overcome. He is now the Fire Chief for the City of Andover. Rochelle Carrick shared her story of being homeless as a teenager. Rochelle is part of Chain of Lakes. One time as a teenager she was isolated in her room with her sister for three days. Finally she decided to leave her home and walked out with her sister. Though she slept on park benches, she kept a job and went to school. Her experience inspired her to graduate from high school, college, and eventually a masters in social work. Today she works as a social worker for runaway teens in Ramsey County.
It was worth sleeping in a box just to hear those three stories!
After the program it was time to go outside and set up boxes. Josh Dochniak from Chain of Lakes was able to provide at least a hundred appliance boxes from Home Depot. We took our boxes and set them up on the tennis courts of Blaine High School. Some of the students decorated their boxes.
When it got dark many of us shared stories with each other while standing around two circular, metal garbage cans. Inside the garbage cans a big fire was burning.
Around 10:30 most of us went to bed inside the boxes. I slept in a warm sleeping bag, and had a quilt and another warm blanket. I had a pad underneath the sleeping bag. I wouldn’t call it comfortable, but it really wasn’t that bad. I slept pretty soundly between 10:30 and 5:00 a.m.
I woke up cold—but it was a cold night. I was glad I didn’t have to go find myself my own breakfast. I could get in my car and drive home.
Being with the teenagers from Blaine High School were an absolute privilege. They didn’t cause any problems, they went to sleep, they got up the next morning and disposed of their boxes. They went to eat breakfast at the school and then attended classes. Those teens are inspiring.
I am so proud of the people at Chain of Lakes Church. Their commitment to help homeless teens in Anoka County is very inspiring.
I believe that homelessness among teenagers can be stopped in Anoka County. And if it can’t be stopped the numbers can be vastly decreased. And if the numbers can’t be decreased we can do more to help these precious teens who don’t have a choice about being homeless.
I have no doubt that Jesus would gladly sleep in a box to lift up this issue. I’m glad that many adults from Chain of Lakes and I had this privilege.