As the late-afternoon temperature hovered at 40 degrees Friday, a moderate winter breeze cut into a group of about 100 people gathered in a small field near the 300 block of Hazel Street.

But the wind did little to freeze out the warm spirits of the residents—homeless and nonhomeless alike.

As it turned out, this gathering was an attempt to bridge the gap of awareness and help end homelessness in the Twin Cities during the first annual Bridge City Project sponsored by Texarkana Homeless Coalition. The project challenged residents with homes to sleep out in boxes one night in an effort to call attention to those have to sleep in boxes every night.

The project included a fundraising effort with a goal of $25,000, and by 6:30 p.m. Friday, the project had received $8,000 toward that goal, said Johnny Riley, the new executive director of the Housing Authority of Texarkana, Texas.

The money raised will go toward buying backpack beds for local homeless residents. These backpack beds are specially designed to be used not only as beds, but also for shade from the sun, clothing storage and protection against freezing weather—which Texarkana has had much of recently.

“We have to raise both awareness and funds to get people off the streets and into some warm shelter,” said Jennifer Laurent, Texarkana Homeless Coalition president.

One of the local homeless residents, Ken Morrow, came out to the project site to see if he could get some help.

“Right now, I’m homeless and I’ve been out of a job of the last three or four years,” he said. “I’ve been wishing and praying for some help.”

Morrow, an Army veteran, said he has been trying to find his federal discharge records in order to receive some medical and disability benefits.

Other residents, such as Helen Nard and Michael Pearce, said they have an apartment in town, but no winter clothing and medicine.

Fouke resident Melanie Bottoms said helping care for the homeless is now a vocation for her.

“I became a case manager for the Salvation Army’s Emergency Grant Program last January,” she said.

Bottoms said she became involved in working for the homeless after she saw a locally published advertisement placed by the Salvation Army seeking a housing monitor.

“At the end of the day, I can go home knowing I’ve helped make a difference in someone’s life,” she said.

Local residents Donna Jo Tubbs and David Carter brought in and assembled two cardboard boxes to be used by nonhomeless residents seeking to see what it’s like to be homeless and have to sleep in the cold at night.

“We are extremely interested in helping bring awareness to the well-being of the less fortunate,” Tubbs said. “It’s hard for me to even imagine sleeping in a box.”

Cathy Smith, owner of Baby Granny’s Baked Goods, brought some of her baked items to sell at the site in order to raise funds for the coalition.

“I was involved in helping out at the Jesus Camp last summer, and that’s where I met a person with the Texarkana Homeless Coalition,” she said. “I’m doing this because back when was I living in Louisiana and had a 6-month-old baby daughter, I was just $5.26 from being homeless.”

Throughout the evening, residents brought about 40 boxes to sleep in Friday night into this morning—boxes which they entered after spending an evening warming their hands over an small fire.

“We have about 11 hours to go,” Riley said, looking at the clock on the wall at the local Salvation Army as he noted the time left to reach the $25,000 goal.

Published: 01/25/2014