Cardboard Box Campers Raise Homeless Awareness In Reno

More than 100 people planned to camp out at a downtown Reno park in cardboard boxes Friday night as part of a fundraiser to help the homeless and raise awareness of recent violence against them.

About 150 people had registered for the second annual encampment, dubbed the "Cardboard Box City," at Wingfield Park on an island in the Truckee River a few blocks from the downtown casino district, said Elizabeth Dorway, executive director of Family Promise, a nonprofit group that provides transitional shelter for homeless families.

The event has been scheduled since last spring but has taken on added importance after a series of attacks against homeless people in the early morning hours of Labor Day, including one fatal beating.

"This was meant to be purely a fundraiser plus allow people to experience what it's like to be homeless even for just one night. But in light of the recent incidents, we felt it was really important for us to acknowledge what has happened," Dorway said.

Organizers planned a silent vigil for the man who died, James Markham Beasley, 55, a Reno transient who was killed in Brick Park just across a river footbridge from Wingfield Park.

Other reports of assaults against the homeless in recent weeks include two men who in Sparks who said a group of four to six teens beat them in Deer Park with sticks, bats and broken tree branches and then sprayed them with pepper spray in an unprovoked attack.

Reno police also found "Kill the homeless," "WASP," death threats to blacks and swastika symbols written on park benches in downtown Reno.

Jeff Carlton, a Reno teacher and member of the Interfaith Action for Peace, said he would be among those spending the night in the park.

"For myself, it's a way the community can show their outrage for what is happening plus show their love for fellow humans," he said.

As part of the fundraiser, participants collected pledges or made individual contributions to purchase a box for $100 from Family Promise or other organizers of the effort, including area churches.

Dorway said she hopes people who spend a night in a cardboard box will "understand a little bit the challenge homeless people face on a day-to-day basis."

"It isn't easy once someone becomes homeless to get out of that cycle. As people will find out, it's not easy to sleep or find a place to shower when you don't have a home. It's not easy to do a lot of things that a lot of us take for granted," she said.

"It's really important to bring this awareness to people so hopefully when they hear friends say something about the different segments of the homeless population, they can share their experience," Dorway said.

Two Reno men have been charged with murder in connection with Beasley's death.

The suspects, Christopher Michael Maciolek, 19, known as "E-Smoke," and Finley Byrdette Fultz, 18, are unemployed, live with their mothers and are suspected in battering two other homeless people that day, police said.

"The homeless population is part of a very vulnerable section of our society. Often times it is people who are part of that vulnerable population who are victimized," Dorway said.

"I think as a community we have to come together to make sure these things don't happen," she said.