The 2015 Ninth Annual Aid For Friends Homeless Awareness Encampment will inform the public about homelessness in this area as well as help Aid For Friends celebrate its 32nd year of service to Southeastern Idaho.
Aid For Friends will hold the annual Encampment Dec. 5-6. Volunteers will sleep in cardboard boxes in possible frigid temperatures at Caldwell Park, eat a “soup kitchen” dinner and keep warm around a burn barrel to remind us all of the plight of the homeless.
Originally a homeless shelter that provided lodging and some meals, Aid For Friends has evolved into a multi-faceted resource center serving many. The agency was born during the savage Pocatello winter of 1983-84 when one young man froze to death while trying to find shelter in a dumpster and another had a foot amputated because no shelter services operated here. The Encampment’s theme, “Wonder Where I’ll Land,” emphasizes the plight of Southeast Idaho’s homeless.
“The Encampment demonstrates what our community would experience without Aid For Friends. At least 30 to 50 people would be sleeping out in the cold every night. Aid For Friends addresses the needs of homeless families and individuals with a warm shelter and vital supportive services,” says AFF Executive Director B.J. Stensland.
Those services illustrate how AFF has evolved. It provides emergency shelter, connects case management to clients with resources to secure employment and medical services, manages transitional housing and offers homeless prevention and rapid rehousing assistance.
Besides raising awareness, the Encampment also raises money to support its services through tax-deductible pledges solicited by volunteers.
“This fundraiser can provide 10 percent of the total costs to operate the shelter annually, which is significant,” Stensland says. “We are relying on a successful Encampment. Those wishing to support the project but unable to spend the night might consider sponsoring a participant with a donation equal to the cost of a one-night stay in a motel with two meals.”
Donations of any size are welcome. Gifts can be made directly through the AFF website aidforfriendspocatello.com as well as by supporting a participant. The 2015 goal is to raise $15,000. Last year, 50 volunteers raised $13,215.
The volunteers will face the same winter weather conditions threatening the homeless, but on Sunday morning they will go home to a warm home, a hot shower and their families. The homeless may have, but are not guaranteed, a bed and meal at the AFF homeless shelter, which operates at near capacity year round.
The Encampment actually begins on Friday, Dec. 4, with construction of the base camp from cardboard boxes on loan from Pacific Recycling. The official start is 10 a.m. Saturday, when volunteers move into camp and construct their own shelters from boxes, newspapers and tarps. The resulting camp is much like an emergency camp found in a community with no AFF-type agency to provide a safe haven for the homeless.
Stensland says anyone wishing to look at the encampment is welcome for an hour or two, but those with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart condition or decreased sensation in their extremities should not attempt to stay all night.
Lance Taysom, owner of Caribou Adventures, will provide volunteers with mandatory urban survival training, to include personal health, frostbite, hypothermia and emergency preparedness. Heat will be limited to a zero environmental impact fire in a 55-gallon drum, with firewood donated by the Hildreth Family.
Boy Scout Troop 315 will prepare and serve a “soup kitchen” dinner Saturday night from ingredients donated by Ridley’s Food & Drug and Butcher Block. McDonald’s will provide a hot Sunday breakfast to be served by members of DUI Drug Court. The Coca-Cola concessions trailer will provide coffee, hot chocolate and cookies and Double Shot donuts, Great Harvest Bread and the Popcorn Shop will donate snacks.
The American Legion Riders will be Saturday night security. Donations of “camp food” — canned chili, stew, tuna, ham and soup — will be collected at Caldwell Park by Modern Woodmen of America.
For more information, call Aid For Friends at 208-232-0178.