Church raises homelessness awareness by sleeping outside in Cardboard City in Naperville

"We are homeless...homeless, homeless."

As the haunting song by Paul Simon and Joseph Shabalala echoed through the sanctuary of the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, participants in the 2009 Cardboard City prepared themselves to assume that roleif only overnight.

The unusual vespers service in an affluent neighborhood where homelessness is hidden heralded an all-night event during which 40 youth and adults slept outdoors in tents, cars, and cardboard boxes. The purpose of the event was to raise local awareness of homelessness in the community and to raise money to provide transitional housing to a local family sponsored by the church.

Unitarian Universalist churches throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri hosted similar events, each raising money for a shelter or homeless organization in their community. The Naperville church raised more than $1,500.

After creating temporary homes from cardboard boxes and tents, the DUUC participants had a soup-line dinner and were led in a prayer for the homeless by Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher.

After the vespers service, Steve Cooper, the director of religious education, led the group in an activity that emphasized the need for people with resources to help provide to those without. 

The group then watched segments of "My Own Four Walls," a documentary by Naperville child advocate Diane Nilan that illustrated, though a montage of interviews with homeless children, the drive to succeed despite the obstacles they encounter in life.

The group gathered around an outdoor fire pit for conversation and reflection. As the temperate evening turned to cold night, they retired to their tents or boxes to begin their night of chilled slumber. 

One family of four?including 5- and 8-year-old girls? slept in the back of their minivan.

Cardboard City is one of many events that are part of the Midwest Unitarian Universalist project, No More Turning Away, which raises awareness, provides social action and works  toward social justice initiatives in order to reduce homelessness in each churchs community.
DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church is located at 4S535 Old Naperville Rd. in Naperville. With a growing congregation of nearly 300 members, the church represents a belief in compassionate, liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, it aspires to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, freedom in human thought and peace and justice in the community.

For more information, call the church office at 630-505-9408 or visit

Submitted by Steve Cooper, DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church

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