“In the wintertime we have four winter survival programs for people that are experiencing homelessness – and one of the most important is winter heat. So, we provide people that are out there in tents or in sacks – in environments that are not meant for human habitation,” with needed help. Joe Stevens, the CEO and co-founder of Joppa, which serves those in the Des Moines, Iowa, region.
“People can freeze to death, and they do every year, more so before we started this program. What we do is try to keep people alive and warm and provide them heaters and make sure they have fuel to keep those heaters running.” As for safety, the homeless person receiving a heater is taught how to use it. “The ones (heaters) we get are the very best ones made – made by Mr. Heater – and they’re indoor-safe actually. The only heater you can actually use inside of a house with propane.”
Keeping the homeless supplied
Each Saturday morning, volunteers from the Joppa team visit people who are using the heaters to ensure they have sufficient propane to stay warm for the next week. “In a week when we have below freezing temperatures we’ll be out multiple times during the week making sure people are safe.”
Another blessing: Joppa also can provide “a good pair of (winter) boots, too, because to the homeless your feet are your most important assets. That’s how you get to food, how you get to work and that’s your main mode of transportation.”
At last count, Stevens shares that around 200 heaters are ‘out in the field, for the unsheltered, living outdoors.’ He notes, sadly, that there are likely “people hiding” they haven’t been able to assist. He says, “There are some folks who just don’t want to be seen and are afraid if you come to them the city is going to find out where they are and then evict them.” Stevens explains that when the city gets a complaint they often force the homeless person to move or in some cases, “just destroy all their stuff.” But the Joppa team keeps looking for people to help and receives tips.
Volunteers are blessed, too
When Joe or other team members finish a day of outreach, “You know, you really feel like – you come back – feeling like you got more out of it than you put into it. It’s just so rewarding!”
“It’s about unconditional love and we’re all children of God – and people (homeless) don’t always feel that way. And when you’re experiencing homelessness, often you feel like a castaway or a leper. You feel really distant from society or from other people and too many times we look away because we don’t know what else to do – or we walk across the street – and I understand that, especially when people feel unsafe, but to acknowledge people (homeless) – just to say ‘hi,’ to look them in the eye – sometimes that’s the best thing we can do to lift them up.”
About the name ‘Joppa’
“It’s a biblical name. In the Old Testament it was an ancient seaport through which vital goods and supplies flowed. We see Joppa as that.” Stevens explains ancient Joppa was also “a place of anonymity,” where people could be accepted regardless of culture or tribe.
“Our signature verse is Acts 9:36,” which speaks of a disciple named Tabitha, who was always doing good and helping the poor. That was a biblically-recorded outreach, which Joppa and other Christian organizations are still doing today. Joppa has been reaching out for 13 years – and their efforts continue all year long, summer and winter. Joppa has also just opened a homeless resource center, where people can “come to us” for assistance, as well.
In our complete interview podcast below, you’ll learn about Joppa’s “Loft Cottage” project, something along the lines of ‘tiny homes’ you may have heard about. It’s a transition out-of-homelessness. More about Joppa