Going Homeless for the Homeless

Councilman Michael Fridovich relaxes next to his temporary shelter where he will spend the night to raise awareness and money for homeless families in Pinellas County.

Councilman Michael Fridovich relaxes next to his temporary shelter where he will spend the night to raise awareness and money for homeless families in Pinellas County.

I haven’t slept in a box since Vietnam,” Gulfport Councilman Michael Fridovich said while sitting next to his humble sleeping quarters constructed out of a cardboard box Friday night.

A sleeping bag was folded up as a makeshift bed, and the box didn’t look like it could comfortably fit a grown man, but Fridovich wasn’t there to be comfortable or to get a good night sleep. He was there to support the Family Promise charity organization, whose goal is to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence.

The Family Promise Pinellas event October 23 at Palm Lake Christian Church in St. Petersburg saw Fridovich, along with 160 others, donate $50 each to sleep in a cardboard box and feel what it was like to be homeless for a night. Entire families gathered at the “cardboard city” to support the charity and raise awareness.

“Family Promise helps homeless children and their parents gain sustainable independence,” director of Family Promise Pinellas Debbie Nash said. “We do so by partnering with the community.”

Nash said that the organization serves families at the Family Promise day center at Central Christian Church, where they get daily case management, showers, laundry and a permanent address and phone number to help them get a job. Nash said that after their time at the day center, families are housed in several local church congregations.

“Congregations give one week per quarter and turn four rooms into bedrooms,” Nash said. “So it’s that family’s private room for the week … and then the next week, they move to the next congregation and we transport their beds with them.”

Over 160 participants built cardboard houses that created the "cardboard city" at Palm Lake Christian Church. The "houses" ranged from all sizes, from one box to nearly a dozen boxes big.

Over 160 participants built cardboard houses that created the “cardboard city” at Palm Lake Christian Church. The “houses” ranged from all sizes, from one box to nearly a dozen boxes big.

According to Nash, Family Promise serves four families at a time, but follows all their former families in aftercare for a year, including phone interviews. Nationally, the program helps 75 percent of families in 63 days.

Nash also shared a recent heart-warming story about helping a couple that had planed their wedding five years ago. They were able to use money raised by Family Promise to finally tie the knot.

“They had serious trauma occur in their family and [the wedding] couldn’t happen. So five years later, in our program, a volunteer coordinated a roughly $6,000 wedding,” Nash said. “She wore her wedding dress from five years ago that had never been worn. They got married and it was a beautiful thing.”

Friday night “residents” of the cardboard city were supplied with a meal that consisted of a cup of soup, an apple and a bottle of water. They were also entertained with contests, a live band, bubble soccer and a screening of the film “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Fridovich’s “cardboard city” neighbor, Robert Groover president of Pinellas Vets Association, was also on hand to promote his charity that focuses on homeless veterans.

“We are a non-profit organization that helps with the reintegration and rehabilitation of combat veterans in the Pinellas area,” Groover said. “We offer transitional housing, partnerships, educational benefits, transportation benefits and business development.”

Groover, a veteran himself who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, understands the importance of helping veterans.

“I always told myself I wouldn’t be sleeping on the ground ever again after the Army, but I’m out here sleeping on the ground after the Army,” he said. “It’s always good to raise money.”

Fridovich, a veteran himself, was equally happy to sleep on the ground for charity, though the councilman did warn everyone around him about one thing.

“I snore very heavily,” he said. “I’m surprised you don’t hear it at your house.”

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