A candlelight vigil will be held this evening on the State Capitol grounds in Des Moines to recognize Iowans who’ve died homeless. Joe Stevens, coordinator of the annual event, leads Joppa Outreach – a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless. He says he’s met more first-time homeless individuals over the last year and most have taken to the street because they’ve lost a job and can’t pay bills.
“The other contributing factors can be mental illness, different addictions or drug use and health is another big one,” Stevens said. “People begin to lose their health and if they don’t have health insurance, they can lose their housing.” A new housing initiative in Iowa’s capital city has helped cut the city’s population of people living in tents or under bridges, but Stevens says he’s still seeing a wide variety of people.
“We’re seeing families and kids in the (homeless) camps, which is very sad,” Stevens said. “We’re seeing a lot of older folks who…have just outlived the amount of money they had set aside.” The Iowa vigil, scheduled for 5:30 p.m., is part of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.
Stevens is encouraging attendees to bring items they’d like to donate to homeless Iowans. He suggests coats, hats, gloves, socks, food or toilet paper. “Even financial contributions, which we use to help make sure those who are still in tents or under bridges have heat and warm, insulated boots,” Stevens said.