Shelter House leader explains its efforts to fight homelessness

Organization to expand with new Iowa City housing development

Crissy Canganelli (Shelter House).
Crissy Canganelli (Shelter House).

IOWA CITY — The Shelter House recently received a $2.7 million grant to help construct a project providing low-barrier housing for people who are frequent users of emergency services. In addition to the new housing development, Crissy Canganelli, executive director, explained how the organization is helping homelessness with its shelter and housing services.

Q: What does Shelter House help the community with?

A: In addition to our core, which is that we provide emergency shelter for men, women and children experiencing homelessness in our community, we have a number of other services that we provide that are really intended to help people beyond homelessness. Where I kind of break things apart are those essential services, which are the emergency shelter and then we have a drop in that people can come in any day of the week and stop in to do their laundry, take showers, meet with staff … And then those services that are intended to help people move beyond homelessness — that’s where we get into for the folks that are residing in Shelter House. We provide housing stabilization services through rapid rehousing. We have case managers and then financial assistance for which we help people not only locate housing but then secure housing in the community … Throughout the duration, we’re providing ongoing case management and life skill support to help people stabilize, get to know the community, their neighborhoods, make sure that the kids are going to school, everything is kind of moving forward for them … In addition to that we, in 2011, started providing permanent supportive housing through our Fairweather Lodge program. We own three homes through which we provide a permanent home for adults (who have) experienced homelessness and also have a diagnosed serious persistent mental illness ...

Q: What are the challenges and barriers that Iowa City’s homeless population faces?

A: I’m not sure the challenges that people face here are unique to here. I think it’s something that is universally experienced across our nation and the challenges are very multifaceted. So people experiencing homelessness in our community, the frustrations and the barriers are that they are living in poverty, of course, and don’t have access to the same financial resources that many others do … So Iowa City has one of the highest housing-cost communities in the state of Iowa. We’re working with people who, if they already have employment, are probably not making minimum wage but not much higher than minimum wage. And I think it would be really a healthy exercise for folks to look into not just talking about affordable housing as a concept but affordability and what does that mean for people in real terms as to what people are making. ... So there’s affordability, there’s structural difficulties with respect to as far as the location of where more affordable units are and location geographically to the job opportunities. Correlation also then the transportation related to getting people to and from work, child care and the fact that we’re working with a population that’s really struggling with health issues …

Q: How can the community help fight homelessness?

A: We would welcome anyone to come in for a tour, learn more about us, visit our website, give us a call. We very much need our community support both through volunteerism and financial support. We also have been working very hard to increase our partnerships with local landlords, property managers and employers to work with us to help individuals and families access housing and sometimes maybe step out of their comfort zone and take a risk that they wouldn’t ordinarily take. And that we’ll walk beside you and the folks that we’re working with. ...

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