Two seniors from Valley High School are looking at how they can help reduce the severity of chronic homelessness in Central Iowa. Joe Reck and Ethan Eiler started this work by founding Blank Tales, an online and printed magazine, that gives a voice to the homeless community of Des Moines that is otherwise silenced in the minds of many.
There is a pressing issue right now about the evictions of homeless camps in Des Moines. Three known camps, Titan, Red Cross, and the Tracks, used to be home to hundreds of homeless citizens until recently when they were wiped off the map. Officials are clearing out these communities for safety during the winter. The portable heaters used by many to keep warm have a large risk of starting fires in the woods these citizens live in.
This sounds like legitimate reasoning until you dig deeper to the root of the issue in the metro. If hundreds of homeless people are being displaced and dispersed, where are they all going? How are they going to survive in the winter without a community of each other and being able to share resources? How will non profit and activist groups deliver food, supplies, and offer shelter to them if we no longer know where to find this population?
Private, commercial property owners have tried stepping in to help and house small populations but are delivered huge fines from officials under three main reasons: their land is not zoned as residential, the tents they place to live in do not have outlets every 15 feet, and their tents cannot be locked shut like a home.
According to Eiler and Reck, approximately $40,000 of tax-payer money is spent each year for every person categorized as chronically homeless, of which there are 4,000 in Polk County. That number includes calls to the fire department for safety concerns, police officers removing them from private properties, and trips to the hospital because of malnutrition or freezing.
The students have done an amazing job of bringing awareness to this issue through their three magazine publications but are looking to get the attention of individuals that can make a difference in the public policy arena. They are joining forces with other nonprofits in Central Iowa to hold a memorial service and rally on the Capitol lawn. Hopes are to bring awareness and potential solutions to decision-makers and gather the entire community to support action that will help those in need.
I believe it is our duty as students to be servant leaders. Serve our schools and communities, but most importantly, those with less of a voice than us. Our voice is a privilege that is taken for granted too often, and by acknowledging that, we can use it to help others rise up.
Remember, the world needs you. How are you contributing back to it?