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Joppa reaches out to homeless community


For Joppa Outreach Inc. founder Joe Stevens, helping the homeless isn’t about giving handouts.

“It’s about the relationships,” Stevens said. “It’s shaking hands, it’s hugging. … And it’s spending time with (people).”

Joppa is an organization that reaches out to the unsheltered homeless with the goal of providing outreach, advocacy, housing and help for people to adjust to housing. More than 700 volunteers donated time in 2009.

The organization started in December of 2008, when Stevens and his wife, Jacki, along with their son, Caleb, decided they wanted to identify and help out with unmet needs of homeless people in Des Moines.

The organization’s mission is to let the homeless in Des Moines know they are cared for, which Joppa does by visiting with every unsheltered homeless person in the city on a weekly basis.

The ultimate goal – to find housing for every single unsheltered homeless person. To do that, the organization recently started its own housing program, which has found homes for 20 people.

In all, Joppa has helped find homes for 82 people through their own housing program or others.

“We try to help them form a plan, and then help them take those steps,” Stevens said. “We don’t oversee people. We try to empower them and help encourage them.”

Joppa, along with the Polk County Housing Continuum and the Street Outreach Coalition, is currently in the process of trying to house 42 people during the winter.

If Joppa is unable to find homes for people right away, volunteers focus on making sure homeless people are able to stay warm in the winter. Volunteers donate money for warm clothing, sleeping bags, waterproof boots and safe propane heaters that extinguish if tipped over. Joppa also has food donated from the Des Moines Area Religious Council and the Food Bank of Iowa. Stevens said a number individuals at Aviva Life Insurance Co. have gotten involved.

The organization held a pair of events leading up to Christmas. On Dec. 21, Joppa held its 2nd Annual Iowa Homeless Person’s Memorial outside the State Capitol, attended by Mayor Frank Cownie. Afterward, Joppa hosted a Christmas party at its office, open to all homeless people in the city and those who help with the homeless. Stevens estimated 200 people turned out.

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