- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa (AP) - The plight of the homeless is a story not many people are interested or comfortable in learning.

Despite the stereotypical imagery of an old man begging for loose change on the street corner, homeless folks come from all walks of life, and every race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. But their stories and struggles largely go unknown.

The Times-Republican (https://bit.ly/1MTKU8G ) reports that in honor of National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Month, a group of local organizations pooled their talents and resources together to create a Hidden Homeless project to raise awareness about homelessness and to break the stigma.

The project is the brainchild of Karen Frohwein, executive director of the House of Compassion. Frohwein came upon images on Pinterest of human forms made of chicken wire, eerily placed around properties as Halloween decorations. She liked the notion that the figures could be easily overlooked and blend in with the scenery, much like the homeless men, women, children and pets of Marshall County.

“Homeless people aren’t necessarily sleeping under a bridge, they might be sleeping on someone’s couch,” Frohwein said. “They just may look a bit different - that something isn’t quite right.”

She shared her idea with local organizations, with representatives from the Central Iowa Art Association (CIAA,) the Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance, Youth & Shelter Services of Marshall County and Marshalltown Community College.

Students from Tim Castle’s art class at MCC teamed up with the CIAA to construct human and animal forms out of chicken wire. Keeley Weeks, CIAA program coordinator and Dennis Houlihan, a board member for the CIAA-Art Center, helped the students in the project.

Using mannequins as guides for shaping, the group created homeless figures, representing a variety of conditions, including an amputee with a crutch, a veteran in a wheelchair, an elderly woman with a cat, children and pets, paired with the appropriate props. Former homeless children helped on the project as well as homeless people from the House of Compassion.

At first, it was agreed upon the figures would be painted with glow in the dark paint so the forms would illuminate at night, but the desired look could not be achieved. Instead, it was decided to paint the forms yellow, a color that would stand out just enough to be seen in passing.

“We don’t know of any other homeless awareness project like this,” said Val Ruff, executive director of the Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance.

Each figure has information about homelessness and resources attached on a placard.

“I wanted them written in the first person,” said David Hicks, director of Youth & Shelter Services of Marshall County. “A lot of people are one paycheck away or health problem away from homelessness.”

While most people believe becoming homeless only happens to “other people,” the statistics show people are at a risk of becoming homeless due to any one of these factors: being affected by a flood, fire tornado or other natural disaster, unstable job economy, long-term illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, debt and lack of savings or life insurance.

Homeless figures have been placed at several Marshalltown locations including the House of Compassion, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, Child Abuse Prevention Services, New Hope Christian Church, the Marshalltown Public Library and the Marshall County Courthouse with others in the works.

Frohwein would like the public to take photos of the figures and post them under the hashtag #hiddenhomelessmarshalltown.

The figures will be up through Thanksgiving and there are plans to bring the figures out for public display for other events, to be decided.

___

Information from: Times-Republican, https://www.timesrepublican.com


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