St. Augustine, Fla. – More than 300 people in St Johns County are struggling with homelessness.
It can be hard to imagine what it is like to be in their shoes, which is why for the second year in a row, a group of people is camping out to raise awareness.
10 people will face the challenge Friday night into Saturday morning on the campus of Alpha-Omega Miracle Home on Collins Avenue in St. Augustine.
They will have just a cardboard box, a tarp, and a flashlight as they sleep in a field.
Alpha-Omega Miracle Home is helping Paige Madancy and her children, who know what it is like to not have a home.
The First Coast Sleep Out Challenge is just for one night, but it was a reality for Madancy.
“It was scary not knowing what was going to happen next,” she said.
Madancy experienced homelessness plenty of times throughout her life as a kid with her mother. She also bounced around to more than three dozen foster homes.
But she says the worst was a little more than a year ago.
Madancy and her kids, the youngest not even a year old at the time, were homeless for nearly two weeks after she left an abusive relationship.
“It’s scary to think about falling asleep and somebody taking the little bit left that you have,” Madancy said. To have somebody come to you and say ‘Hey, we’re taking your kids.’ That was what brought it all together to me.”
Paige and her three children managed to land at Alpha-Omega Miracle Home.
The organization has been housing homeless women, their children, and senior women for more than 20 years.
The Sleep Out challenge raises money to expand the program and take in more people.
St. Johns County sheriff Robert Hardwick did not hesitate to sign up for the event for the second straight year. He says it is humbling.
“It brought something real to you,” he said. “It made me think that we complain about the small things. Whether it be traffic or your car, forgetting to get gas today. Then you think of these women and what they have gone through in life.
Sheriff Hardwick and Madancy’s paths crossed at last year’s event when Paige detailed her journey through homelessness.
Hardwick offered Madancy a job with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s Risk Management division shortly after meeting.
Hardwick says formally documenting the number of homeless people in the county can be difficult. But he says there are close to 1,000 homeless people under 18 years old in St. Johns County.
The First Coast Sleep Out challenge is a one-night even he hopes leads to helping as many people as possible.
“If we can double that or triple it, and educate ourselves and not turn that blind eye,” Hardwick says.
The 10 people participating in the challenge have a goal to raise $100,000.
That money would go toward building another wing at Alpha-Omega Miracle Home so it can house 100 more women and children.
To donate, you can sponsor one of the individuals “Sleeping Out” by visiting their website.