"It's all about the love, man..."
So said a participant in the Siouxland Sleepout event last weekend. And it took plenty of it to keep the many volunteers going through the night, living in frigid cardboard boxes or tents to try to raise awareness to the plight of the homeless in northwest Iowa.
"The temps were in the 30s and the wind gusts were quite simply outrageous," said Chris "HippieBoy" Radloff, one of the organizers and webmaster for the cause. "This was by far the coldest Siouxland Sleep Out on record. But we did it! We went, we huddled, we drank hot chocolate and coffee by the gallon... And we raised money. Money that's very much needed."
A few Storm Lake families had planned to participate, spending the night outdoors, but the road conditions Friday prevented them from getting to Sioux City's Lewis and Clark Park.
"When my daughter heard about this, she wanted to do it. The whole family decided it would be a good experience to realize a bit of what it must feel like to be homeless, even if it is just for one night," said Jean Chindlund, Storm Lake, who had run some notices in church newsletters locally, hoping to stir some interest from the local community.
"For me there was some personal meaning here. There was a time when my brother was homeless, so this is something I would like to be able to help out in the future," she said.
In fact, her brother Curt Eckerman has appeared on TV as a speaker on the national homelessness problem, and had volunteered to collect items around the region for a successful silent auction to assist the Siouxland Sleepout. Eckerman is a native of Holstein, who speaks out especially on the subject of people with untreated mental illnesses or alcohol and drug addiction who fall into society's cracks and end up living on the streets.
"It's very sad, actually. There are some very bright people living as homeless simply because their conditions have never been treated. My brother was lucky enough to find someone who took him under his wing," Chindlund said.
Eckerman was back out there with the rest of the volunteers this year, sleeping in a cardboard box, huddling with the others in front of their fires, eating from a soup kitchen style mess tent.
"Even the mayor of Sioux City was out there in a box. Our family was disappointed that we couldn't get there to be part of it, but we hope to be there for next year," Chindlund said.
"It's more of a problem than we realize. I don't think people are aware of it, because we don't necessarily see people living in cardboard boxes in our small cities like Storm Lake.
"I'm sure there are probably people in Storm Lake who are homeless, or very close to it. And in Sioux City and Des Moines, it's a huge problem," she said.
"Did you know that there were around 2,500 homeless people in Sioux City last year - about 250 or 300 on the streets on any given day?" Radloff says on the event's website, www.siouxlandsleepout.com. "Another little-known fact is that slightly over 25% of Siouxland's homeless are veterans, ranging from those who served in Vietnam to the Iraq/Afghanistan war. There are entire families living on the streets. Children. It's not a good situation."
From schoolchildren to doctors and lawyers, people came from all walks of life to participate in the Sleepout. Teams like the "Homeless Homies," "Survivor Cats" and "In-Tents Superstars" came out, as did the American Legion Riders of the region. "We're here for all the military veterans who struggle with post-trauma stress disorder, addiction, and homelessness. You're not alone," one of the riders said.
Another team's motto indicated that misfortunes can happen to anyone - "We're all a paycheck away..."
Such nights of volunteer homelessness are on the rise across the country, says Chindlund, who wonders if it might be a good thing for Storm Lake to do one day.
Anyone wishing to learn how to get involved as planning is already beginning for the 2009 event, or wanting to make a donation to the program which helps to boost housing and recovery programs for the homeless, may contact Chindlund at 732-6494 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.