ISU group hosts homeless awareness sleepout

Frances Myers

Cardboard house structures crowded Central Campus sidewalks Tuesday — the work of ISU Catholic Student Community, which hosted a Homeless Awareness Sleepout for students and the public.

The national poverty rate is 12.9 percent, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. A study of homelessness in 2004 by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that in 50 cities, nearly every city’s “official estimated number of homeless people greatly exceeded the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces.”

The group hosted a sleepout on Central Campus in order to raise awareness for the prevalence of poverty. Teams of four-to-six people were allowed to sign up in a cardboard house building competition, an event new to this year’s sleepout. In order to compete, they were asked to pay a fee of $10 or bring 10 nonperishable food items.

“Shelly Bruecken did a great job of planning and organizing this year’s event,” said Heidi Dittmer, sophomore in agronomy and member of Catholic Student Community. “So far, as of yesterday we had two teams signed up but we made it so people could sign up today too.”

“Now we have a couple more teams who have signed up and are building their structures. Tonight we are expecting more people to show up for the sleepout.”

As well as a sleepout, the group also arranged to have a speakers panel in room 3512 of the Memorial Union. One of the people on the panel was Angie Schreck, assistant director of Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support of Ames.

Schreck spoke on the panel addressing the issues of domestic and sexual violence and how they contribute to homelessness.

Impoverished, battered women often have to choose between homelessness and abuse, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“Overall, domestic and sexual violence is a major contributor to homelessness,” Schreck said. ” A victim may become homeless because they are fleeing from an abusive situation and have not had the opportunity to plan for self sufficiency due to immediate threats. Victims may be wrongfully evicted from their current housing as a result of the abuse.”

ACCESS works to give victims power back in their own lives. Schreck said this includes evaluating what control an abusive person has taken away from that individual and connecting homeless victims to mainstream resources to aid in self-sufficiency.

Vic Moss is executive director of Emergency Residence Project, a non-profit Ames homeless shelter which works to provide meals, shelter, referrals and intervention where possible.

“We go off of a fiscal year, and in the last complete year we provided help to around 2,372 people and 700 households,” Moss said. “It’s frustrating because it seems like the problems are bigger than the solutions; what we do is like a drop in the bucket.”

“In Ames, there is a waiting list of more than five years for permanent affordable housing that just got opened back up a year or two ago.”

“Out of the renters the ERP assists, half or more don’t qualify for affordable housing because they have poor credit. It seems like the more you need it, the less likely you are going to get it.”

In order to help combat homelessness, people need to be aware  it exists. While it may not be as obvious as big cities, homelessness is nonetheless a major issue in Ames.

“The public has to be informed about homelessness,” Moss said. “It doesn’t get enough publicity and it’s an issue that deals with everyone. People need to get informed, get facts and figures as well as motivation and figure out how best to channel it.”