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Cedar Rapids City Planning Commission OKs rezoning for new Linn County overflow shelter
County looks to prepare shelter for winter months
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County got the green light this week from Cedar Rapids’ City Planning Commission to rezone a property the county is preparing to open as a new overflow shelter for homeless individuals.
The commission in a 5-1 vote approved rezoning the shelter, at 1017 12th Ave. SW, from light industrial to public-use. Three of the nine panel members were absent.
“What we identified with this building was an opportunity to relocate a cold weather homeless shelter,” Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said. “ … We’re trying to leave as little of a footprint as possible and minimize disruption to neighborhoods.”
The City Council is slated on Oct. 25 to hold a public hearing and first reading on the rezoning request.
The overflow shelter is used when other shelters can’t be accessed or when they’re at capacity, offering a short-term place to stay for people experiencing homelessness.
The county purchased the 16,200-square-foot building from Alliant Energy last year for $395,000, using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
CRANDIC previously used the new shelter as an operational backup site if an emergency ever happened at the Duane Arnold Energy Plant, the now-decommissioned nuclear power plant near Palo.
Willis Dady Homeless Services will be the main staffing agency for the overflow shelter, managing night-to-night operations and supervising the building’s staff. Other service providers may provide on-site mental health or substance use services.
The first floor is slated to open this year, with separate areas for men and women and children to sleep. The shelter will provide food, sleeping space and storage for people’s belongings. Eventually, services also will be available on the second floor and basement.
It’s near bus routes along Eighth Avenue and Sixth Street, the No. 1 and No. 11 bus. It also is near a Hy-Vee Drug at 15th Avenue and Sixth Street SW and other businesses, which made it a prime location for such services.
The county and city share the $55,000 operational costs of the shelter during its typical season.
The overflow shelter in recent years has been located at the county-owned Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW. The facility would serve approximately 90 people on a given night, Rogers said.
The opening of the Linn County Public Health building in the Oakhill Jackson neighborhood cleared some space in the Fillmore Center and was intended to be temporary until a permanent solution was found, but because of COVID-19 and the 2020 derecho, Rogers said the county kept that location. The county plans to dispose of the property.
In 2021, the city and county worked on a proposal for an emergency shelter component of a renovated Colonial Center building in Wellington Heights. The commission recommended denial of that rezoning, citing neighborhood concerns about the concentration of similar services in the neighborhood.
Neighbors said at the time a shelter wasn’t a permanent solution and residents already are grappling with issues such as decreasing crime rates.
Rogers said 107 on-the-street, homeless people were counted in July — more than double the 2019 figures.
Sheltering is not a permanent solution to homelessness, Rogers said, but it’s a critical service while working toward expanding affordable housing options and working with landlords to get high-barrier people housed.
“We really want to be able to try and help solve the winter months where people are outside and may need shelter,” Rogers said.
Three community members spoke in opposition to the project on Thursday, citing concerns about property values and safety among other things.
“It’s kind of a known fact — this homeless thing is a problem in the entire U.S., and I admire these people for what they’re trying to do,” resident Kathy Tauke said. “I just think that you have to find the right location with the right services.”
Some people said it’s difficult for residents of the working-class neighborhood to attend public meetings. Commission chair Jim Halverson responded that meetings are just one of several ways to provide input on projects.
“I’ve spent a great deal of my career in public sector work, and I can tell you that even people that do not have internet service still find a way to be heard,” Halverson said. “ … There are multiple ways of having your interests represented outside of attending meetings.”
Commission member Amy Homan, the only one who voted against recommending rezoning, said she works for a railroad company and worries about increasing pedestrian numbers here.
“I’m not sure that’s where I would want to increase foot traffic,” Homan said.
Rogers said downtown would be the ideal spot for a shelter, as it’s where other services and shelters are, but there’s not the inventory in that part of town.
“This is just us again trying to address a problem that is increasing,” Rogers said.
Alicia Faust, the Willis Dady executive director, said shelter check-in ends at 10 p.m. each day so people can’t come at all hours of the night, and each individual and their belongings are searched. She said staff and neighbors have not reported issues of violence from the individuals using the shelter.
“We are a low-barrier shelter,” Faust said. “ … We are simply protecting the health and welfare of individuals.”
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