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Little sleep for sleep-out volunteer

Making a Difference

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Siouxland Sleep-Out event chairperson

Journal photo by Jerry Mennenga

Willie Delfs, Siouxland Sleep-Out event chairman, sits Thursday in the back of the trailer he uses for his “homeless” shelter during the fundraiser.

SIOUX CITY – Willie Delfs has never gotten a lot of sleep at the annual Siouxland Sleep-Out.

“Things calm down by 4 in the morning,” he said. “That’s when I catch a few winks, before I’m up to help with morning coffee at 7 a.m.”

Since the first event in 2005, Delfs has been chairman of Siouxland Sleep-Out, which encourages individuals and groups to sleep outside as homeless people often must, to build awareness of the causes of homelessness and to raise money to help the homeless.

Delfs, the owner of Able Homebuilders, explained his relationship with the sleep-out came from sitting on the board of the Mental Health Association of Siouxland.

“Because of my business, I was asked to be a member of the board to help identify transitional housing for men,” he said.

Michael G. “Mike” Wood, who helped form the mental health association into a nonprofit Iowa corporation, proposed the sleep-out idea.

“Mike talked to us about how sleep-outs have been going on for years in other communities,” Delfs recalled. “He said a sleep-out in Wayzata, Minn., had been going on years and raised about $2 million.”

Wood pitched to the group how that approach could be handled in Siouxland, and Delfs was on board.

“I’m from a community that’s big about giving back,” said Delfs, a Sioux City native. “I so believed in it that I volunteered to be the event coordinator.”

“Willie is multitalented and one of the very few people who could organize all the logistics of an overnight involving 300 participants,” Wood pointed out.

“Event coordinator” doesn’t quite describe all of Delfs’ responsibilities, said Meg Armstrong, executive director of Shesler Hall, a haven for women with special needs.

“Willie works with city officials, gathers pledges, solicits corporate sponsors, chops wood for the firepits, makes his so-delicious potato soup, then dismantles the tents and cardboard boxes,” she said. “Always, always with a smile on his face.”

“The sleep-out would not come together without the help of many people,” Delfs said. “It’s a great team effort.”

Siouxland Sleep-Out participants collect pledges from friends, family members and co-workers that benefit Shesler Hall; Henry Muller Hall, transitional housing for men with mental illness; and Community Support Services, which provides help finding suitable housing and other services to the homeless. The past five events have raised more than $200,000 altogether.

Delfs was honored recently with the Governor’s Volunteer Award for his work on the Siouxland Sleep-Out and for his commitment to help the homeless in Siouxland.

“The best part of our event is that it has spurred at least seven or eight other Iowa towns to have sleep-outs to draw attention to the challenges of homelessness,” he said.

The year’s Siouxland Sleep-Out is set for Nov. 5 at Lewis and Clark Park in Sioux City. It will be co-sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Siouxland and the Siouxland Coalition to End Homelessness. More information is available at


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