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Locals experience homelessness firsthand in the Cardboard City
One group participating in the Cardboard City event held at Cumming First United Methodist Church Friday, April 20, 2018 sets up the box fort they will spend the night in to raise money and awareness for homelessness. - photo by Alexander Popp

Homelessness may seem like some far-off city problem, rarely glimpsed in parks, street corners and underpasses and quickly forgotten.

But in 2017, more than 10,000 people in Georgia identified as being either unsheltered or in emergency and transitional housing.

The patrons of the Cumming First United Methodist Church got a small look Friday at what many of those homeless people face on a daily basis, taking part in Cardboard City, a service learning project and fundraiser for Family Promise of Forsyth that takes local people out of the comfort of their home and briefly shows what it means to be homeless.

Attendees camped out overnight in shelters fashioned out of cardboard boxes in the Cumming First United Methodist Church parking lot; ate a "soup kitchen" dinner of soup and baloney sandwiches; did crafts and games; and heard speakers talk about the problems of homelessness some people in Forsyth County face.

"Forsyth County is a comfortable place; it's a place that we all enjoy living in. But there is a segment of the population that most people may not even be aware exists,” said Jim Lepp, chair of the board for Family Promise of Forsyth. “... I know before I became involved with Family Promise I had no idea that there were any homeless in the county."

According to Lepp, this event is one that will stick with people of all ages and help parents have that first conversation with their kids about homelessness while raising funds for Family Promise of Forsyth.

"This is something that other chapters have been doing for a while, and we thought this would be an interesting way to introduce homelessness to the community ... to help the kids, in particular the youth, understand the idea of what homelessness means around Forsyth County," Lepp said. 

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Kevin Ferraro plays a beanbag toss game with a group of youngsters at the Cardboard City event held at Cumming First United Methodist Church Friday, April 20, 2018. - photo by Alexander Popp

Tina Huck, the executive director of Family Promise of Forsyth County, said that as of Friday there were 505 homeless students in the county, and that people may not realize how big of a problem homelessness is in Forsyth County, because it doesn’t take the form that most people are used to. 

"Obviously, here in our county we aren't going to see a lot of cardboard boxes,” Huck said. “Homelessness tends to be more hidden in our county, so this is a chance for people to learn about that."

She explained that there are many reasons that a person might become homeless and varying degrees to what form their homelessness can take, but that a lot of times it is because of a situation that arises quickly and unexpectedly. When those situations do arise, Huck said that's when the network of resources that Family Promise has assembled comes into play.

Lepp said that Family Promise of Forsyth has been in the county for nearly two years and is the only group with the intent on guiding the whole family through the process of transitioning out of homelessness. To achieve this, they rely on local churches to support them with donations, a place to house their people, meals and fellowship.

"One of the great things about it is the fact that we've got various congregations, various denominations supporting us in that endeavor,” Lepp said. “... It's very affirming that the community is rallying around the cause.”