A candlelight vigil was held last night on the steps of the state capitol to recognize Iowans who’ve died homeless. The annual gathering is organized by Joe Stevens who runs Joppa Outreach, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping homeless families or individuals who aren’t staying in a shelter.
He reports seeing more first-time homeless persons than ever before. “And we’re especially seeing folks living in their vehicles. They have to choose between paying rent or their insurance and they end up putting all their belongings in their vehicle and moving from parking lot to parking lot,” Stevens said.
Some Iowans living out of their car, van or truck have children. Stevens said many of those homeless parents are worried about losing their kids. “People try to stay unseen in that situation,” Stevens said. “There’s the embarrassment, but this time of year, there’s the real issue of kids needing to be in school. There are a lot of times, kids are living in vehicles and they just get taken to school and people aren’t even aware they’re in that situation.”
More than 18,000 Iowans were homeless in 2010 according to the Iowa Institute for Community Alliances. Stevens believes the number is much higher because many homeless individuals are living in tents, under bridges or in a vehicle. Governor
Terry Branstad was among the speakers at the ceremony on the State Capitol grounds last night. The vigil was part of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.