On any given night in the Siouxland community, 250-300 people are homeless; more than 25 percent of those homeless are Veterans. They are people in need of shelter, clothing, food, and a pathway to survive and thrive.
For 19 years, the first weekend in November has been when the community of Siouxland steps up to help the homeless in the area through the Siouxland Sleep Out event. Michael J. “Mike” Wood cofounded the event to raise money to help the homeless, and to use the money to help with substance abuse and mental illness needs of the homeless. This was the first Sleep Out with Mike not in attendance, as he passed away February 10th this year. But his message and conviction live on through other people and organizations.
One of the organizations assisting with the Sleep Out this year was Hope Street of Siouxland, located at 1308 Nebraska Street, Sioux City, Iowa 51105; (712) 560-2253.
“Through the Sleep Out event, area agencies such as the Warming Shelter, the Gospel Mission, the Soup Kitchen, and Hope Street of Siouxland focus attention and bring awareness to the homeless situation in the Siouxland area. This year, we met on Friday, November 3rd, at Cone Park. The Gospel Mission provided chili, the Soup Kitchen brought soup and Jimmy John’s supplied the cookies.” shared Sara Johnson from Hope Street of Siouxland.
Families came out and slept in tents or attempted to build shelters of their own to spend the night in at the park. A prize was given to a family with the best shelter.
“It’s an attempt to bring awareness, although on a small scale, as to what a person who is homeless has to deal with and overcome. They have to make their own dry, safe, warm place to sleep each night, and to be able to find food. Joe Tidwell, with the warming shelter, added another aspect to the event this year. Those who chose to participate in the great cook-off were provided with food staples that people get from the food pantry, and then tasked with creating a meal from those items. The gentleman who writes the Sioux City Food Blog judged and decided the winning meal. No one knew what the secret ingredients were going to be, other than their ingenuity,” continued Sara.
Overcoming homelessness is not simply a case of going out and getting a job, or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Some people become homeless as young as age 12 due to leaving an unsafe home environment. Life on the street is not good, but it may serve as a destination to leave a trauma filled environment. Some people may become homeless later in life not due to intentional bad decisions, but they had a spouse who fought cancer and were left with medical bills that left them without enough funds to then take care of themselves.
“If you don’t have a safe, dry, warm place to stay that you can go to every night, that you are in charge of and you take responsibility for, then that is our definition of homeless. If you’re surfing from one couch to the next, at some point, those couches are going to run out. Then you don’t have a stable living environment. We deal with men who live at Cook Park during the week, and then after the first of the month may have saved some money, or from panhandling have rounded up enough money, they go book a hotel room for 3, 4, 5 days. For those days they have a safe, warm place to stay, a pillow to lay their head on, and a shower available to them. But after those days, then it’s back to the park to live,” stated Sara.
Hope Street was founded in 2019 with the goal of connecting the community through innovation and collaboration, the end result being an inclusive, successful continuum of care, enabling the program to reach those suffering from homelessness, addictions, and mental illness.
“Hope Street’s mission is to work with the homeless community and address mental health, physical health, and substance abuse issues that a person is struggling with, and to identify the barriers to overcome in order to move on to the next level. For some people that is finding employment, for others it is being able to meet their own medical needs. The participants in our program sit down with us to take a true inventory of what is needed in order to truly help them, and then we get their commitment to do those things. Each situation is based on age, need, and where people are in their lives. There isn’t a cookie cutter system or application,” said Sara.
When a person is participating in the Hope Street program, they must attend either AA or NA meetings, find a sponsor, when they are at the point they are able, seek employment, we help them start to address and learn how to meet their medical needs, and also their mental health needs.
“When they start the program, if finding work isn’t possible yet, we help introduce them to area agencies where they can volunteer and give back to the community,” said Sara.
Although a minimum of nine months is all they require as a commitment, Sara did share that when residents stay with the program at least 18 months or longer, that is when they truly start to see lasting changes in their lives.
“People do not start the program with an end date in sight. We aren’t about simply checking off things on a list that they are then able to do. We want to instill permanent changes so that they are aware of how to keep going on a longer, more stable time period. They need to know that it’s ok to take a shower every day; they learn that it’s ok to go outside, and you will still have a safe place when you come back inside. A person in the program doesn’t complete the program and leave until they feel that they are ready, and strong enough to make it on their own,” stated Sara.
To learn more about the organization, and how you might be able to donate to their needs or volunteer, listen to the full interview on Facebook.
By Amy Buster