During the savage Pocatello winter of 1983-4, one young man froze to death while trying to shelter in a dumpster and another had a foot amputated because no shelter services operated here. From that horrific beginning, Aid For Friends was born.
Originally a homeless shelter that provided some meals, the agency has evolved into a multi-faceted resource center serving many.
This year, Aid For Friends is celebrating its 30th anniversary and on Dec. 7-8 will hold its Seventh Annual Homeless Awareness Encampment. Some 75 volunteers will sleep outdoors at Caldwell Park in cardboard boxes in probable frigid temperatures, eat a soup kitchen dinner and keep warm around a burn barrel to make Southeast Idahoans aware of the plight of the homeless.
The Encampment’s slogan, “Thirty Years Ago … No Place To Go,” celebrates both Aid For Friends’ birth and its anniversary.
“This activity raises awareness of how Aid For Friends provides vital services to address the needs of homeless individuals and families facing desperate circumstances,” says AFF Executive Director B.J. Stensland.
Those services illustrate how AFF has evolved. It provides emergency shelter, connects clients with resources to secure employment and medical services, manages transitional housing, and administers the finances of elderly, disabled and military veterans through the representative payee program
In addition to raising awareness, the Encampment also raises money to support those services through tax-deductible pledges solicited by those volunteers.
“This is the most significant activity we hold,” Stensland added. “Those wishing to support the project but unable to spend the night might consider sponsoring one of the participants with a donation equal to the cost of a one-night stay in a motel with two meals.”
The 2013 Encampment’s goal is to raise $20,000. Last year, 70 volunteers raised $14,223. Stensland stressed that all money raised is spent locally.
The volunteers will face simulated winter conditions threatening the homeless, but on Sunday morning they will go home to a warm house, a hot shower and their families. The homeless may have, but are not guaranteed, a bed and a meal at the AFF homeless shelter, which operates at near capacity year round.
The Encampment actually begins Friday, Dec. 6, with construction of 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 wanting 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.
An instructor with cold weather survival training will provide th 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.
Boy Scout Troop 315 will prepare and serve a “soup kitchen” dinner Saturday night and Boy Scout Troop 310 will assist with Sunday morning breakfast. The Salvation Army canteen will provide coffee, hot chocolate and cookies and the American Legion Riders will provide security Saturday night.
Donations of “camp food”– canned chili, stew, tuna, ham and soup — will be solicited at Caldwell Park by the Modern Woodmen of American.
For more information call Aid For Friends at 208-232-0178.