Homeless for a night: Lessons from Cardboard Box City

Homeless for a night: Lessons from Cardboard Box City

TINTON FALLS — They began to emerge from their cardboard boxes at daybreak, exhausted and cold. The temperature had dipped into the 50s overnight, with a wind rustling through the encampment.

Welcome to “Cardboard Box City,” a one-night taste of homelessness for 140 people looking to make a difference. The annual event raised more than $14,000 for Family Promise of Monmouth County, a Middletown-based shelter for families.

The participants, a majority of whom were teenagers, built their own shelters out of cardboard and tape on Friday on the grounds outside of Monmouth Church of Christ. After a soup-line dinner, some speeches and music, they hunkered down for a long night.


“You come in with a joke mentality, ‘Oh, we’re going to make a box city with all our friends,’ but once it got to 2 in the morning it started getting real,’” said 15-year-old Sam Houston, one of 38 Christian Brothers Academy students who took part. “And this is mid-September, and it honestly isn’t even that cold and I could barely stand the night. So doing this every day in the winter for your whole life, it must be horrible.”

There are 1,061 homeless people in Monmouth and Ocean counties; 605 in Ocean and 456 in Monmouth. Of those, 368 are under the age of 18, according to the latest figures from NJ Counts 2015, based on a census taken in January and February. That means that nearly one out of every three homeless people in Ocean and Monmouth counties is a minor. Ocean County had a 21 percent increase in homeless youths since last year.

There are 10,211 homeless in New Jersey, according to NJ Counts.

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