116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County is preparing to open its new winter overflow shelter for homeless individuals as the on-the-street homeless population continues to increase.
But, first, it has to rezone the shelter, at 1017 12th Ave. SW, from light industrial to public-use.
Until that is done, no date has been set for opening the overflow shelter, which typically opens once it gets cold and other shelters are full.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission will consider the request Oct. 6. After that, it will go to the City Council for a public hearing and first reading on Oct. 25.
The county bought the 16,200-square-foot building from Alliant Energy last year for $395,000, using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said 107 on-the-street, homeless people were counted in July, more than double the number counted in July 2019.
“The count is so high now, and homeless individuals are also seeing more profound challenges. This shelter is an overflow when other shelters can’t be accessed or when they’re full,” Rogers said. “This will be used by people who need a short-term place to stay.”
The new shelter was previously used by CRANDIC as an operational backup site if an emergency ever happened at the Duane Arnold Energy Plant, the now-decommissioned nuclear power plant near Palo. It still has a shower area and lab areas. A new elevator is replacing one of the oldest in the state.
Willis Dady Homeless Services will be the primary staffing agency for the overflow shelter, managing night-to-night operations and supervising the building’s staff.
During a typical overflow season, the county and city share the $55,000 operational costs of the shelter.
Last winter, the overflow shelter was at the county-owned Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW, where some neighbors had complaints about activities.
Rogers said a couple of neighbors of the new overflow shelter voiced opposition to its location at a Thursday open house, which is part of the rezoning process.
But, he said, “it’s been pretty smooth with the neighborhood. We haven’t received much pushback, and we’re trying to work with the neighbors and be good neighbors ourselves. Staff from Willis Dady will have conversations with people staying about having respect for neighbor’s property, not walking through their yards.”
Plans for future
The plan this year, Rogers said, is to get the building usable and then make improvements in coming years.
The first floor will be open this year, with separate areas for men and women and children to sleep. The shelter will provide food, a place to sleep and storage for people’s belongings.
In the future, the second floor and basement will be made available for services as well.
“The building doesn’t have sprinklers right now, so in order for us to occupy the building, we have to have staff there awake during the nighttime as ‘fire watch,’ ” Rogers said.
“We also want to improve the bathrooms, put in some showers. Once we get the first season under our belt, we can create more storage, mailboxes and laundry.”
Rogers said homeless shelters aren’t the solution to homelessness.
“When we have a number of people who are living on the street, having shelters open and ready is more of a priority,” he said. “And this needs to be in conjunction with expanding affordable housing options and working with landlords to get high-barrier people housed.”
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