Sleep Out for the Homeless

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Elisabeth Kissling, guest columnist

Each year, close to National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week, the Linn County Office of Veteran Affairs and Community Circle of Care (CCC) invite you to spend one night outdoors to learn about homelessness and discover what our community is doing to help those in need. This year the 11th Annual Linn County Sleep Out for the Homeless will be held on Saturday, Oct. 29 beginning at 4 p.m. through 6 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 30 at Vets Memorial Stadium.

Although you may have heard of this event, it has grown and changed in a ways that you may not be familiar with.

Community Circle of Care strives to ensure that nearly 100 percent of the funds raised from the Linn County Sleep Out for the Homeless are donated to programs that serve those who are homeless in Linn County. Eleven participating programs receive funds from this event including: ASAC Transitional Housing, Catherine McAuley Center Transitional Housing, Cedar Valley Friends of the Family, Community Overflow Weather Shelter System, Family Promise of Linn County, Foundation 2, Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) Housing, Mission of Hope, St. John of the Cross Catholic Worker House, The Salvation Army, Waypoint Services and Willis Dady Homeless Services. Each of those programs specializes in serving specific populations including women, youth, families, men and those in recovery from substance abuse.

This event is planned by a group of volunteer representatives from the programs that receive support from the Sleep Out along with representatives from CCC, Linn County and other agencies serving those who are homeless. Because we are all volunteers with other full-time jobs, this event is really a labor of love working for a cause that we believe in. Each of the volunteers that plans this event brings with them personal experiences related to how their agency helps those who are homeless. These are some of the experiences that we share during the event at features such as the poverty simulation and agency jeopardy game to educate participants about issues surrounding homelessness in our area.

Our event used to be held in Downtown Cedar Rapids at Greene Square, but was moved to Vets Memorial Stadium a few years ago. Our event was moved to Vets Memorial Stadium for two reasons. The first was that the church across from Greene Square that was providing warming facilities and restroom was no longer able to handle the large volume of people who attended the event. We saw this as a good thing that our event was growing, because more people means more funds raised for homeless programs in our community. Also, around the time of our move to the Vets Memorial Stadium the city revealed plans to revamp Greene Square, making it unavailable for our event. When we reached out to other locations in our community, Cedar Rapids Kernels staff stepped up and offered us their space for free. This allowed us to accommodate all participants while keeping proceeds going to the programs this event supports.

The Linn County Sleep Out for the Homeless opens its doors to any person who is homeless in our community; they are welcome to attend free of charge. We have had homeless individuals identify themselves as such during our event and were able to connect them to services that night. We also have past residents of our shelter programs attend and volunteer because they feel that the event is important and a good way to raise funds for the programs that helped them. For example, every year some women from a local women’s shelter volunteer at the event and participate by sleeping out. They take pride in the fact that they can give back and make a difference. Some bring family and friends to help them better understand what they have gone through.

Homelessness has many faces and not everyone who is homeless wants to be identified as such or to discuss their experience with others at the event. Those attending our event may not even realize that the person standing next to them at the event is actually homeless.

We hope that you will plan to create a group and join us at this year’s Linn County Sleep Out for the Homeless. Registration is now open on our website at www.sleepoutcr.org. Together we can work to make Linn County a better place for everyone.

• Elisabeth Kissling, of Marion, is a Linn County Sleep Out for the Homeless Marketing and Events Committee Volunteer. She serves on the boards of Family Promise of Linn County and the Marion Arts Festival and works as the Development/Marketing Director for Foundation 2 and a Pianist at Von Maur. Comments: eeklug@aol.com

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