youedge tarp, pieces of cardboard and rope tied against a tree, Rick Edwards had a safe place to sleep while protecting himself against a cold autumn wind.
“It’s actually pretty warm inside here,” the Sioux City native said of the makeshift tent he built with friend Christian David. “I’ve been to the worst places.”
David, from California, insisted that a 50 degree day wasn’t too bad.
“I’ve surfed in colder weather than this,” he laughs.
Both men reside on Hope Street in Siouxland, which provides a safe, substance-free living environment for adult men seeking recovery.
Edwards and David experienced long periods of homelessness.
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“If you want to know how to survive on the streets, you have to ask someone who has been on the streets,” said Hope Street executive director Sara Johnson.
Opened in 2019, Hope Street is one of six nonprofits that will benefit from the 17th annual Siouxland Sleep Out, which takes place Friday at 5 p.m. at Cone Park, 3800 Line Drive.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are approximately 2,756 homeless people in Iowa each night.
In the Sioux City subway, there are about 250 to 300 homeless people each night, according to the Siouxland Sleep Out website.
“They include men, women and children,” explained Siouxland Sleep Out volunteer Alisha Rinker. “Unfortunately, more than 25% of Siouxland’s homeless are American veterans, who served in Vietnam until the last conflict.”
That’s why Siouxland Sleep Out, which takes place on the first Friday in November, is so important.
“It helps raise awareness of an issue that’s easy to ignore,” Johnson said.
During Siouxland Sleep Out, participants are encouraged to take pledges while pitching a tent – or a cardboard box and, even, something more creative – while experiencing what a homeless person regularly experiences. .
“It’s not like camping in the summer,” Johnson said. “You will experience wind, rain and be in the elements.”
The event begins with a soup line and live auction at 5 p.m. Friday.
A contest for creative shelters as well as one for shelters made from found objects will start at 6 p.m. and most will be open by 8 p.m.
“We’ve been running creative shelter competitions for many years,” Johnson explained. “Our lost and found shelter contest is new this year and is much more challenging.”
Indeed, David and Edwards of Hope Street were getting a head start with their cardboard, tarpaulin and string creation.
“You want to lay down a lot of cardboard for flooring,” Edwards said. “No one wants to sleep on the cold, hard floor.”
Also new this year is a ‘Chopped on the Streets’ cooking competition.
Inspired by the long-running Food Network TV show “Chopped”, each competing team will receive five ingredients, a one-gallon jar, a spoon, and a space around a campfire.
“Each team can bring two additional ingredients and will have an hour to prepare their entree,” Rinker explained.
Then, a panel of celebrity judges including cooks from Gospel Mission, Soup Kitchen, chefs from Kahill’s and Trattoria Fresco as well as Fat Boy Food blogger Jesse Sneller will rate each entry for flavor, presentation and creativity.
“The winning team will take home a trophy and dinner for four at the Warrior Hotel,” Rinker said. “Second and third place will receive gift certificates from local restaurants.”
For attendees who would like dinner and a show, an open-mic drum circle will begin at 6 p.m. Popular alternative music group Ultra Violet Fever will perform at 7 p.m.
At 8 p.m., the judgment of the refuges will begin. Silent auctions will close and winners will be announced at 9 p.m.
“People don’t have to stay all night in Cone Park,” Johnson said. “But the participants choose to do so.”
It is simply a way of drawing attention to the problem of homelessness.
“We think homelessness is something that can never happen to us,” Johnson said, shaking his head. “In reality, it could happen to anyone.”
Through her work at Hope Street, Johnson said she has met people from all walks of life.
“I’ve known people who barely went to school to people who had higher degrees,” she said. “None of them expected to be homeless.”
Yet the homeless population is very good at being resourceful.
“You couldn’t survive if you didn’t have a good dose of street smarts,” Johnson said.
That’s why she was impressed with the shelter-making skills exhibited by Edwards and David in front of Hope Street’s 406 12 a.m. St. location.
“You guys did a great job,” Johnson said admiringly.
Discussing the homelessness issue in his office, Johnson said the statistics don’t always reflect the big picture.
“You can calculate how many beds we fill, but that’s only a percentage of the actual homeless population,” she said. “So many people are couch surfing with a friend or relative, but they might not have a place of their own.”
While Siouxland Sleep Out draws attention to the problem, homelessness remains an ongoing issue.
“Siouxland Sleep Out is once a year,” Johnson explained. “Agencies can use your help throughout the year.”