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Congregation to Sleep Outdoors March 21 to Raise Awareness of Homelessness

March 14, 2009

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Church West aged eight to 80 will spend the night on Saturday, March 21st in tents and cardboard shelters on the church grounds in Brookfield. This intergenerational event is designed to raise awareness of homelessness – not only in the Milwaukee metro area, but country-wide.


“The recession has increased human need to alarming levels,” said the Rev. Suzelle Lynch, Minister. “We believe that even a brief experience of the vulnerability of our homeless neighbors will inspire church members to greater acts of generosity and advocacy.”


The Cardboard City is part of the church’s year-long campaign on homelessness called “No More Turning Away,” a joint effort with other Unitarian Universalist churches in Wisconsin and Illinois. Those who participate will have the chance to hear from formerly homeless people about their experiences, and share a simple meal before bunking down in boxes on the church lawn. Lynch and Maria O’Connor, the congregation’s Director of Religious Education, have offered numerous learning activities on homelessness for adults, teens and children over the course of the year. They hope that the Cardboard City will inspire action in the wider community as well as in the church.


At a time when many churches are reporting shortages in their offering plates, the church has asked its members to dig deeper into their pockets, and as a result has given several thousand dollars so far to Repairers of the Breach in Milwaukee and The Women’s Center in Waukesha -- again, as a way to address homelessness. The church also is learning from its own struggles to understand homelessness. “We’re a church with both urban and suburban members and we’re used to thinking of ourselves as people who live comfortably,” said Lynch. “But our focus this year has given those among us who once were homeless, or whose housing is threatened, an opportunity to speak up. Homelessness can happen no matter your race or class or background.”


Since September when “No More Turning Away” began, UU Church West members and friends have donated hundreds of pounds of food and clothing to homeless shelters and other non-profits in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. Church volunteers also regularly provide and serve meals at the Guest House in Milwaukee and work on a Habitat for Humanity building crew. Congregation members were encouraged from the pulpit to contact President Obama and urge his administration to take action on homelessness early in his tenure.


Unlike some “box city” projects, the Unitarian Universalist Church West Cardboard City is not a fundraiser. However, to show your support, the church invites you to blink your lights as you drive past the church property on the evening of March 21st -- located on North Avenue in Brookfield, between 128th and 131st Streets.


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