A Palm Coast Observer staff writer participated in Pastor Jearlyn Dennie's event to raise awareness.
I was homeless, and how quickly I regretted my choice of clothing: black shirt and deep navy jeans on an afternoon when our blessed Floridian cold front had fallen back under direct, unclouded sun. Only the flapping tarp that served as the roof of a cardboard shanty offered respite from the heat.
I was lucky, because this was only temporary. I was camped in front of Barbosa Plaza off Old Kings Road with Pastor Jearlyn Dennie and School Board member Andy Dance, taking part in Dennie’s “Homeless for a Day” event. This was to raise awareness of homelessness in general and to benefit two homeless families in particular; they have enough to pay the bills for new, permanent housing, Dennie told me, but not enough to pay their security deposits. She wanted to raise $7,000 in cash and pledges.
Hearing about these families spoke to Dance.
“The first thought was about our students,” he said. “There’s about 360 children who attend our schools who are homeless.”
Dance had created a makeshift sleeping shelter aside from the larger cardboard hut, made from a single large cardboard box with a mat within.
I had only just tested this shelter when an officer arrived from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
“The property owner called about you being here,” he told us.
Assured that we had Sheriff Rick Staly’s and property owner Maria Barbosa’s permission to be there, the officer left. Dennie told me that, before I arrived, a woman from the Florida Department of Health had driven by to talk to them about the dangers of hepatitis A, assuming they were homeless. A store owner had also stopped by to ask them to move to a different stretch of roadside.
“It might not be good for my business,” he had said.
My experience posing as homeless man for a couple of hours made me think: What if I had to try to keep all my belongs dry in trash bags? What if I had nothing but cardboard to keep the chilly wind away in the night? What would I do if I got arrested for trespassing?
Dennie, once homeless for several weeks herself, had a sheaf of papers to hand out to curious passersby, those who did not, as Dance put it, “look right through us.” They contain a checklist of items to donate to Jearlyn Ministries, as well as facts about homelessness: There are over 600,000 homeless people in the U.S., more than 25% of whom are children.
These facts chill me worse than any wind.