116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION - When a woman left behind an abusive partner and walked into the Marion Public Library with her 11-year-old child in tow, Madeline Jarvis was ready to offer her a safe place to stay for two nights as the woman got back on her feet.
At the end of the conversation, the woman hugged Jarvis and said, 'I've been hearing ‘no' for two weeks, and you were my first ‘yes.' ”
'It's fantastic when we can cling to those moments when we see the difference we're making,” said Jarvis, adult services manager at the library and a member of the Marion Homelessness Response Team.
The grassroots group provides resources and direction for people in Marion experiencing homelessness. When members of the response team encounter someone who may be experiencing homelessness, they go through a flow chart designed to help the person find a safe place to stay for the night. If no other options are available, they give the person a 'two sleeps” kit to help them through the next two days.
The kit includes a letter from the response team wishing the person 'comfort and stability” and a check list to complete within two days.
It has vouchers for two nights at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Marion, a Hy-Vee voucher for groceries and hygiene items, a Groundswell Cafe meal card for a full meal at the Cedar Rapids restaurant, bus tickets and route maps, and water and snacks.
The check list encourages people who receive the kit to contact Laura Campbell at Marion Cares and work on a future housing plan by calling shelter services or family, friends or co-workers.
Campbell, executive director of Marion Cares, a nonprofit that collects backpacks, winter clothes and Christmas gifts for people in need, said the response team helps people know they're not alone.
She said most resources - whether homeless shelters, food pantries or other social services - are in Cedar Rapids.
'We were sending an indirect message to individuals that if you need those services, there's not a place for you in Marion,” Campbell said.
The response team creates 'a way for Marion residents to receive those services and be part of their community,” she said.
The team formed about a year ago when Marion Public Library director Hollie Trenary heard about a man sleeping on a bench outside the library.
She called on representatives from the library, Marion Independent and Linn-Mar school districts, the Marion Police Department, Willis Dady Homeless Services and Marion Cares to come up with a way to help the homeless population in Marion.
For Trenary, the Homelessness Response Team is a perfect example of the library's mission to provide information.
'These things happened in the library before the Homelessness Response Team came about,” Trenary said. 'Connecting citizens to information is what we do every day all day long.”
Marion Cares received a $3,000 grant from local churches to make the first 10 kits, which cost $102 each but are worth much more thanks to donations.
From May to September, the team gave out eight kits. Trenary noted that the team encountered far more than eight people in need during that time, but 'the answer isn't always the two sleeps kit.”
The team is putting together 20 kits to get through winter to be kept at the library, at each school district, Marion Cares and the police department.
Emily Zimmon, support services director with Willis Dady, said they identified eight people sleeping outside in Marion last January. She guesses there are more.
'A lot of people who are outside generally are really good at making sure they're not seen,” Zimmon said.
When homeless people are seen, the team's goal is to help them get off the streets as soon as possible. That is easier to accomplish when everyone is working together, Zimmon said.
'One of my favorite things about the Marion Homelessness Response Team is we're all connected,” she said. 'That's a big thing. Otherwise, we're all kind of doing this separately and it's very disjointed.”
Marion Police Sgt. Jeff Hartwig said the team provides a good 'steppingstone” to get people experiencing homelessness connected to the right resources, especially if an officer encounters someone in the evening or overnight. The sergeant said that all 40 Marion police officers will be trained in the response team.
'A lot of newer officers don't know what resources are out there,” Hartwig said. 'This is huge and really beneficial.”
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