Sinclair: Homelessness in Ames can’t be ignored


Participants of Reggie’s Sleepout sleep on the field of Jack Trice Stadium in tents and cardboard shelters on March 25. The event raised money for homeless children in Iowa.

Isaac Sinclair

Everyone has gotten onto or off the Duff interstate exits at some point during their time in Ames. If you do this enough, you will quickly run into a homeless person with a cardboard sign asking for money and prayers.

I take this exit frequently, and I have repeatedly seen people of all ages standing on the side of the road, begging for money. At first, I thought this was a rare abnormality in a city that is thriving. This is Ames after all. Homelessness isn’t an issue for us. That only exists in large metropolitan areas like New York or Los Angeles.

But the more I keep taking the exit, the more I see people standing at the end of it. It has nearly become a constant every time I take the exit onto Duff. What continues to surprise me is that I have never seen the same face twice. Never.

Homelessness in Ames is a more prevalent issue than we think. However, it remains hidden because of a stigma about homelessness and being homeless in small towns. Because of this stigma, not enough is being done to help those in need.

Rural areas and small towns struggle with homelessness just like large cities do. The issues that can cause homelessness, like poverty, mental illness and inadequate housing, don’t go away in rural areas. In fact, the rural homeless, or the hidden homeless, are less visible because they find shelter in places in which people aren’t meant to live, like abandoned buildings or in the woods.

Ames is especially susceptible to homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, areas with increased economic growth and increased housing costs lead to increased homelessness. Ames fits that bill. And if you don’t think homelessness is an issue in Ames, allow me the opportunity to inform you that 30.5 percent of Ames lives below the poverty line. It’s an issue, and it’s not going anywhere.

People are often judgemental and cruel when regarding the homeless. We need to try to treat them as people instead of numbers and annoyances on the side of the road. If we can change how we perceive the homeless, we will start getting closer to ending poverty.

With winter coming, we need to act to help the homeless population make it through winter and get back on their feet going forward. To learn more about homelessness, you can go to the National Alliance to End Homelessness website here, or visit the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness website here.

To provide local help, primarily to Ames and the Des Moines metropolitan area, you can donate to the Emergency Residence Project, a shelter in Ames, here, or donate to Reggie’s Sleepout here. There are also other groups that can be found through local community organizations and churches, like the Catholic Charities USA website or the United Way of Story County website.

Homelessness is not going anywhere anytime soon in Ames. We need to change the way we perceive the homeless, especially those in our own backyard. Do what you can to help those in your own community, whether that is participating in Reggie’s Sleepout, which just recently took place in Jack Trice Stadium, or donating to one of the non-profit organizations listed above.

We are all in this together, and with winter coming, there is no time to waste. I don’t want to see anymore new faces on the side of the interstate when the snow starts falling this December.