Chattanooga area residents sleep outdoors Saturday to combat homelessness

Chattanooga area residents sleep outdoors Saturday to combat homelessness

November 17th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Terry Stulce, left, and Tyler Waite construct cardboard box homes during the Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga's 5th annual Box City Camp Out to Stamp Out Family Homelessness on Saturday at First Tennessee Pavilion in Chattanooga. Participants constructed and slept in cardboard box homes for the evening to benefit the Family Promise programs.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Sure, hanging out with friends all night under the First Tennessee Pavilion is fun. But when the early morning hours roll around and the temperature dips into the 30s -- that's when you start to get it.

That's a taste, just a snapshot of life as a homeless person in Chattanooga. That's what participants in Saturday night's Box City Camp Out to Stamp Out Family Homelessness fundraiser showed up for.

Individuals and groups were invited to purchase spots at First Tennessee Pavilion to set up and spend Saturday night in an urban environment as a hint at the reality of being homeless in the city.

"Even though they're going to have fun tonight, being homeless is not fun," said Mary Ellen Galloway, executive director of Family Promise of Chattanooga.

The goal for Family Promise was to raise awareness about family homelessness and raise money for its outreach programs, which include a day center and partnerships with area church congregations.

Camp Out organizers said Saturday evening that society's general perception of the homeless is a stereotype: a wandering individual who panhandles or sleeps on a park bench.

But there are probably 400 or more families who are currently homeless in the Chattanooga area, said Galloway, families like the one she met only a few days ago.

An unnamed local woman and her two kids had been living in a car. At night, they would find a lighted parking lot where the kids could see to do their homework. And who knows what they were eating.

They're now being aided by Family Promise.

"You lose everything when you become homeless," said Mary Lynn Morse, Family Promise board of trustees president.

She and Galloway hope campers walk away saying, "I didn't really get it, but I get it now," come this morning.

Elizabeth Farr said Saturday evening that it probably wouldn't be too far into Sunday morning before reality hit her Church of the Good Shepherd youth group students.

"I think the two-in-the-morning has not registered yet," she said.

Bailey White, a 15-year-old youth group member, said he knew it wasn't going to be all fun and games.

"I knew it'd be a challenge," he said.

Natalie Lopez-Durel and Lucy Townsend, both 11 and in Farr's youth group, sat up their sleeping quarters away from the boys. They knew it was going to be a chilly night, even though Natalie said it wasn't "even that cold today." Imagine, she said, sleeping out in the bitter cold of dead winter.

"It makes me sad," she said.

Kelley Nave, a Family Promise board member, said the Camp Out is the group's major fundraiser. Last year, she said the event raised around $15,000.

As of this year, Galloway said there were fewer participants and donations. Since October's partial government shutdown, she said, people are holding on to their money.

"Right now, people aren't giving," she said. "People are scared."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6731.