Families prepare to spend the night outside to shed light on local homelessness

Thousands of homeless children

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Homelessness is a growing issue for hundreds of families in our community but what many people don’t realize is that thousands of children in Duval County schools are suffering from homelessness, as well.

On Friday, Family Promise of Jacksonville hosted its annual Cardboard City event to bring awareness to homelessness in our area.

Family Promise is one of the groups trying to help combat homelessness. Although it's cold outside, Beth Mixson said that, every year, people are prepared to spend the night outside to shed light on the problem.

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“They’re sleeping in their cars, couch surfing, living in motels, struggling to get by day to day,” Mixson said.

Mixson said many people don’t realize that homeless people aren’t just those who suffer from addiction or mental illness.

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“It’s really heartbreaking, 35% of America’s homeless is a family with children,” Mixson said.

More than 5,800 of those homeless children are Duval County students in Jacksonville. Also, there is a significant number of younger children who aren’t accounted for.

“They’re infants.They're toddler’s. They’re in pre-K. So they’re not even included in that Duval County count,” Mixson said.

Mixson said that 1 in 4 homeless are children age 6 or under and, when they grow up without a stable home, it’s hard for them to have a stable life.

“Those children need a stable place. They do better holistically, in their health, academically, their mental health, if they have a stable place to live,” Mixson said.

That’s why Family Promise created Cardboard City. It’s an annual event that allows people to live homeless for the night so they can experience what those families face every day.

“They will think about if they’re sleeping in their car. If their family was living in a car, where would everybody sleep. If they were having to move from night to night, how they find shelter, how will they find food?” Mixson said.

Organizers said the experience often encourages people to help the homeless community instead of looking down on them. Although hard times got those families in that situation, Mixson said the goal of Family Promise is to help get them out.

“It’s really economics. It’s the crunch between affordable housing and having enough income,” Mixson said.

Mixson said Family Promise of Jacksonville helps homeless families with children find shelter. Many of the parents in those families are working but they don't make enough money to cover their living expenses, she said.

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