Hundreds of people are expected to gather on the State Capitol grounds in Des Moines this evening to recognize National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day. Joe Stevens organized the Iowa event. He’s cofounder of Joppa Outreach, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless. Stevens says people become homeless for a wide range of reasons.
“Every situation is different, but if you were to say what are some of the larger, contributing factors – certainly mental illness would be one and another would be alcoholism or drug addiction. Sometimes those two things are combined and exacerbate each other,” Stevens said. In many cases, Stevens says homeless people made “bad choices” as teenagers and have had a hard time recovering from their past mistakes.
“If someone in their teens or 20s ends up with a felony or eviction…once you’ve had a felony or eviction, it’s very difficult to get an apartment,” Stevens said. “You’ve got to have somebody to mitigate for you and you have to jump through hoops…and that limits the number of landlords and types of places you can stay.”
Today’s event on the West Capitol Terrace starts at 5:30 p.m. and will include a candlelight vigil, music poetry and prayer. Stevens says the names of those who have died homeless in Iowa will be read aloud. He says there’s no real way of knowing exactly how many homeless Iowans have died.
“We don’t know for sure, we’ve been researching that,” Stevens said. “We have about 40 names we’ve been able identify with a lot of cooperation from other agencies, but we know we’ve missed a number of names.” Stevens is encouraging attendees to bring items they’d like to donate to homeless Iowans. He suggests candles, batteries, gloves, tents, sleeping bags or 20-pound propane tanks.