By SAM AMADEO
Recently, there has been a string of days where the temperature was negative 20 and the windchill was tinkering somewhere around negative 50. Most of us were able to weather it out in heated rooms and buildings with full meals to warm us up.
That was not the case for the 11,890 homeless citizens living in Iowa, 3,805 of which live in Polk County alone, according to Hope Ministries.
Though homelessness in Iowa decreased 0.3 percent from 2017, according to a Channel 13 report, long-term homelessness increased by over 8 percent that year.
In a state known for extreme weather conditions in both summer and winter, Drake University believes more can be done to end this crisis facing many of our fellow citizens.
Drake’s Neighborhood and Community Engagement Manager Ryan Arnold explained how the University is working to combat the problem.
“Drake has been involved with Reggie’s Sleepout since 2005 and hosts the event every fall,” Arnold said. “It is an annual event to raise awareness about homelessness in our own community and all around the state of Iowa.”
Reggie’s Sleepout started in 2001 after a homeless young man named Reggie was found dead due to exposure. Homeless deaths are still a problem in the state as 24 homeless citizens died in 2017 from exposure, according to a Register report.
Reggie’s Sleepout has people sleep outside in boxes, tents and sleeping bags to get a sense of what homeless citizens go through on a nightly basis. In 18 years, the Sleepout has had over 10,000 campers and raised more than $1.7 million.
Moreover, Drake fraternities and sororities have been involved in several homelessness projects over the years, and Colleges of Pharmacy and Law have provided free medical services and pro bono legal work.
Drake has also worked with organizations such as Joppa in 2017, building “tiny homes” for homeless citizens.
Still, there is much more to be done.
“1 out of 5 youths in Iowa do not know when their next meal is coming,” Arnold said.
Nearly 25 percent of all homeless households in Iowa include children. Arnold pointed out a great way for Drake students to help the hungry by using “little pantries.”
Similar to “little libraries,” these pantries are mailbox-sized and -shaped, and they can be filled with non-perishable items such as diapers and peanut butter.
Three of these pantries are located on Drake campus, one on 2507 University Ave. right outside St. Catherine of Siena.
Drake University and many other organizations are working to put an end to the huge homelessness crisis across the state. According to Iowa Public Radio, The Des Moines city government has been evicting homeless citizens from campsites around downtown, which some organizations found to be unproductive.
In many cases, these homeless citizens attempt to find shelter at the Central Iowa Shelter and Services (CISS) and similar shelters who have done a good job of taking those in need in, but these shelters only have so many beds to offer.
Additionally, many homeless citizens are wary of going to shelters, especially those with children and mental health problems who fear for their safety being in such a crowded space.
I reached out to Mayor Frank Cownie and City Council members Chris Coleman and Connie Boesen for comment, but none of the three responded.
If you are interested in volunteering or interning to help our fellow homeless Iowans and stop homelessness in the state contact Central Iowa Shelter and Services, Youth Emergency Services and Shelter or Joppa. Additionally pantries can be found at http://mapping.littlefreepantry.org/.