CONVERSE is the heart of our magazine. It is here, we are starting conversations focused on issues that matter to our readers and that impact our community. We invite everyone to take a seat at the table and share their unique perspective. We are diving into difficult conversations, approaching seemingly unanswerable questions, with a commitment to embrace possibilities. We are allowing things to unfold by trusting in the process, leaning into the conversation with an insatiable curiosity. It is our desire to get the conversation rolling, to hold space for ideas to manifest, to encourage full participation, and facilitate in this process that moves us forward.
After sharing stories on homelessness for the last year, we finally had our first event on October 29th.
U n d e r s t a n d i n g H o m e l e s s n e s s
We recognize that there are many people and organizations working tirelessly to help those in need. We applaud their dedication, and collaborated with them on this event to educate and empower our community. Don’t worry if you missed it, you can still watch this dynamic conversation on Siouxland Magazine’s Facebook page.
Siouxland Magazine’s role was simply to amplify the voices of those deeply rooted in this work and give them an additional platform to connect with the community. And help facilitate the conversation.
During the event, we…
- Heard stories that opened our hearts – Interviews with people who transitioned out of homelessness.
- Connected and learned from change makers – Interviews with experts.
- Had powerful conversations provoked through Q&A time – Responded to your questions.
It took many people and organizations to pull this off.
A HUGE THANK YOU TO:
Siouxland Public Media
Siouxland Street Project
SHIP (Siouxland Human Investment Partnership) & Matt Ohman (Executive Director)
City of Sioux City & Police Chief Rex Mueller
The Warming Shelter & Joe Twidwell (Board President)
Hope Street of Siouxland & Sara Johnson (Executive Director)
Homelessness is a world-wide, enduring and complex problem. We were not setting out to solve it in a day, but meet it with compassion and bridge understanding. It was, and still is, also our hope that our readers will continue the conversation, create momentum, and help where they can. One of the take-aways that came out of this conversation, that was months in the making, was that people can help by donating to the organizations that support the homeless.
Often we feel compelled to hand change out our car windows, but unfortunately that doesn’t always go to the best use. Organizations not only have the ability to allocate resources where they are needed, but they also have the means to stretch the dollar further. This is one of many things that came from the event. Again, if you missed it, please consider going to the Facebook page and watching.
We all have a part in making our community better and spreading more kindness. Do what you can, ask when you are unsure, and always choose love.
Sharing Their Stories – Bridging Understanding
What do you want people to know?
Most homeless people do not want to be homeless and not everyone ends up that way due to drugs. Seven years ago, Amy was living in Bakersfield, California with her husband. When she found him dead in their home, she “lost it.” Friends didn’t know how to react to her grief; she was hopeless, despondent and before long she was also homeless and terrified. Over the course of those seven years she found herself in a tent camp, in several cities and states, and eventually landing in Sioux City. She came here with the help of a friend; but that help soon disappeared.
She found support though, when a stranger at a gas station offered to drive her to the shelter for Council of Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence (CSADV). With the help of CSADV, WomenAware and several other entities, she was able to find hope again. Iowa is the only location where she found someone willing to help her regain documents needed to rent an apartment or get a job – an ID, social security card and other documents that are easily lost when you are homeless.
“It’s hard work”, she said. “You have to do the work; you have to make the phone calls and follow-up on things they tell you to do. Homelessness will be your bottom. You can crawl out of it, but you have to make the choices to do it.”
And her advice for those of us who haven’t been in her shoes – “Believe people when they tell you what they are going through.”
“I started using Meth in 2011 because of tragedies that happened in my life. I just took the wrong path, and it destroyed my life.” That path led Steven to continued harder drug use resulting in the loss of his job, his car, his home, and estrangement from his family. He was homeless and on the streets. He walked into HopeStreet after getting an ultimatum from his Parole Officer – get clean or go back to prison. “Hope Street saved my life. I truly found hope here – that’s why they call it Hope Street.”
Steven did not know anything about drugs, but someone showed him what to do with the assurance that ‘this will help you’ but it didn’t. It led him to sleeping in Cook Park during the day and staying up all night because it was safer. “It’s really dangerous,” he said of living on the streets. He didn’t like it, but he couldn’t help himself from chasing the next high to numb himself. “I was in denial that I had a drug problem,” he said.
The turning point came when his mother died. He was three days sober and unable to get approval to leave the area to be with her because of his ‘dirty ways’ while on probation. “She was my biggest supporter, she was always there for me to call, and then she was gone. Now I want to make her proud. I know she’s here with me now, even though I wasn’t there with her when she died.”
Steven is devoted to sobriety, he goes to Narcotics Anonymous meetings seven days a week, including twice on Saturday and Sunday. He has reconnected with his Lakota heritage participating in Sweat Lodge ceremonies and PowWows as often as he can. He said he never lost faith in Tunkasila (God) even during his drug use. “I pray for the young people,” he said referring to how many are drawn into meth usage. “We need more shelters. It is the only way to help people stop using and get off the streets.”
“The reason I got homeless is because I got stranded here,” Chris said. He was on a long-term visit from California, helping extended family with child rearing. One night he fell asleep while driving, resulting in a crash that left the other three occupants of the car dead – including the family member he was here to help. He was charged with homicide by vehicle and served jail time locally. When he was released, he had nowhere to go and did not know where to find help.
While he initially went to a shelter, Chris now states “I’d rather sleep under the bridge than stay in a shelter.” He went on to describe shelter life as horrible. The poor hygiene of others and the substance users that pull you into their habits, were the thing he got caught up in. Throughout the day he would dig through dumpsters to find cans until he had enough money to buy a bottle of alcohol and bag of dope. Then one day he walked into City Hall to the City Outreach for the Homeless. Chris said, “It’s only two people who work there, and they’ve only been open about a year, but I know like 40 people they have helped get off the street, get their Social Security, get an apartment, or get the right treatment.”
Despite being involved with drugs and alcohol for nearly 35 years, he is now proud to say he is 8 months, 23 days clean and sober. He has a place to live, the help he needs, is working multiple jobs, attends church, was recently baptized and is beginning to connect with his four grandkids. When asked what he wants people to know about homelessness, his response is simple, “There is hope.”
When I first got here in the early 90’s, the only place to help people was the Gospel Mission. Now there are so many more places for help. A person has to want the help first, but now there are more places.
Cinnamin grew up in Sioux City. She aged out of the foster system at age 18, with absolutely no family in the area. She entered relationships to find support and had three children. The last relationship was unhealthy, and she made the choice to leave – with nowhere to go. She stayed with friends for a little while, then on to others. “I was still motivated to help myself,” she said. “I was trying to use my resources. Sioux City has a lot of resources.”
She kept pursuing options for help and support in the community. She learned of Bridges West and got on their waiting list. “Just when I really needed it, I called, and they told me my name had come up. It was perfect timing.” She said. She moved in with her two oldest boys, while the third was living with his father.
Being a single mother is hard enough but being homeless and a single parent is really hard. She says to ask questions, use the resources available to help you and your kids. She believes too many people don’t know there are supports available. “Transportation is a big issue when you are homeless.” She said. She walked to places a lot or took the bus if she could afford it. Getting from one source of support to another is challenging.
At Bridges West, she had the option to stay up to two years with an established rent and weekly meetings to help transition out of homelessness. The meetings focused on setting goals and navigating to reach those goals. Due to being at Bridges West, Cinnamin was able to get her driver’s license, start building a strong credit rating and get custody of her youngest son. Her goal was always to go to Nursing school. With hard work, determination and the Single Parent Scholarship through Women Aware she finished her Nurse Aide, Medication Aide and began working. She has continued working, going to school and taking care of her family. “I’ve come a long way,” she said. In the next year she will finish nursing school, become a Registered Nurse, get married and own a home. All these things are possible because she has been determined. She wants people to know that people are homeless for a lot of reasons. “Don’t make assumptions, ask questions and tell them about all the help available.”
By Stacie Anderson