PALMER — Members of the community came together on Friday to raise awareness and try to find solutions for homelessness.

The 13th annual Cardboard City event was held on the Alaska State Fairgrounds as a joint effort between five separate agencies that all battle the homelessness problem in the Valley.

“It’s important for education to start young so people are aware of where they can plug in as a volunteer and how they can avoid making the choices that might bring them to homelessness,” Laurie Kari said.

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Kari said that homelessness is almost invisible in the Valley compared to urban areas. The causes of homelessness are lack of affordable housing and lack of living wage jobs, disaster, family dissolution, medical emergencies leading to a lack of work and seldom poor choices. Many young families suffering from homelessness do not want to be seen, and camp out in cars for fear of having their children taken away.

The five agencies gathered at the fairgrounds were the Knik House, Alaska Family Services, Family Promise, MyHouse and the Wasilla Homeless Committee. In the 13th year of Cardboard City, Family Promise is sharing the proceeds of the event with the other four organizations.

Matt Clayton moved to the Valley two years ago before volunteering to paint at MyHouse. When MyHouse Director Michelle Overstreet learned about Clayton having run a youth center for a decade, they examined the possibility of Clayton joining MyHouse as an outreach coordinator. Clayton was eager to help fight homelessness at his first Cardboard City.

“To see a group of people rally together, it’s a fun event but to raise money for a worthy cause, a lot of families will be here tonight. So just to see families participating together is something I’m looking forward to,” said Clayton.

Families, community members, and some of those suffering from homelessness decorated cardboard boxes and raised money and awareness to help fight homelessness in the Valley. Clayton said that there are over 1,200 teens couch surfing and homeless across the Valley. While this is the first time in the 13 years that the proceeds will be distributed amongst five agencies, it is far from the first time these agencies have collaborated to help someone in need.

“While we’re partnering on this event we’re partnering everyday on an ongoing basis,” said Clayton.

Prizes were given for different categories of decorations. Judging was done comically, and the events around the neighborhood of decorated cardboard boxes were as engaging as the decoration itself. A listening booth provided an opportunity for people to write down ideas for solutions to homelessness on large pieces of paper. Testimonials from former guests and current homeless were given with helpful information.

“If everybody just took the time to go up and meet somebody, ask them their name and go what are you doing here, why are you on the street, what can I do to help you? They would have a different take on that,” said Lauri Phillips.

Phillips directs the Wasilla Homeless Committee, which does not receive the same grant funding that the other organizations share. Phillips and her volunteers have to raise all of the fund themselves for families in need. The Wasilla Homeless Committee takes donations of all kinds of household items and stores them until they can be given to someone who needs them, free of charge. Phillips was excited to see how the sign for Cardboard City turned out. The sign was designed by a child with Family Promise, and the design was also displayed on the Cardboard City T-shirts.

“It’s such a great honor to be working with all of these people,” said Philips. “Our goal of all of us is just to get people off the street because what it comes down to ultimately is it doesn’t matter what brought you here, you should not be homeless anywhere, certainly not in Alaska.”

Family Promise board member John Weaver said it just felt like the right thing to do.

“We can make hopefully a difference with families and have the community see that there is a need for them being responsive,” said Weaver. “It’s a fun event but it’s a serious event.”

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