116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Linn County buys building for overflow homeless shelter
Shelter at Fillmore Building also will open this winter before being phased out
CEDAR RAPIDS --- Linn County — spurred by the number of homeless people in the county — is buying a building that will become a permanent homeless overflow shelter in the winter.
The county is buying the 16,200-square-foot building at 1017 12th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids from Alliant Energy for $395,000. The purchase is funded with American Rescue Plan Act pandemic dollars.
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said 103 people have been identified as living on the street, in addition to the homeless who are in community shelters, according to a report from Linn County General Assistance.
“I grew up in Cedar Rapids. I don’t ever remember it being like this,” Rogers said. “There isn’t a single silver bullet that will solve it, and there’s not one single reason that leads to people being homeless.”
Both the new shelter and the overflow shelter now in the Fillmore building, 520 11th St. NW, will operate this winter. When the new shelter is fully operational, the Fillmore shelter will close, Rogers said.
The new shelter buliding was previously used by CRANDIC as an operational backup site if an emergency happened at the now-decomissioned Duane Arnold Energy Plant. The building still has a shower area and lab areas. A new elevator will replace one of the oldest in the state.
Cedar Rapids City Council member Scott Olson, a Realtor, helped the county identify buildings for the new shelter, with a goal of closing Nov. 5. Olson said he will donate his commission from the sale to the overflow shelter program.
“It’s hard to find something close to services and close to a bus line, and this has that,” Olson said.
The new shelter, he said, provides more space and stability for housing the homeless during the winter or during emergencies. It also may be used as a cooling center in the future, just as the Fillmore shelter has been used that way in the past.
Last year, Rogers said, the Fillmore shelter would house 90 to 100 people some nights. Its occupancy will be capped at 75 people this winter.
During a typical overflow season, the county and city share the $55,000 operational costs of the shelter, according to Ashley Balius, the county’s community outreach and assistance director.
In the past, neighbors have had complaints about some of the people at the Fillmore shelter, which is why the new shelter’s location — on a bus line but outside a residential area — is seen as a plus, according to Rogers and Alicia Faust, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services.
“Everyone wants people to have homeless services, but nobody wants it in their neighborhood,” Rogers said. “Short of constructing a new building, this is about as good as a location as we can identify.”
In addition, Faust said, “clients won’t have to listen to the ‘not in my backyard’ folks, which is very detrimental to mental health.
“We want them to focus on their strengths, and we want to break down the barriers of stereotypes and end the stigma toward our clients in the community.”
Willis Dady is the primary staffing agency for the overflow shelters, managing night-to-night operations and supervising the building’s staff members.
Since 2018, the nonprofit has run as street outreach program. One part-time case manager and other staffers spend around 10 hours a week finding and talking to homeless individuals, Faust said.
“We were working with maybe 20 to 30 individuals a year that were sleeping outside and getting them connected to housing resources. It was a small program,” Faust said.
“Currently, there are over 100 individuals sleeping outside,” she said. “We are burning out and running out of options to meet their needs adequately. Currently, all shelters in Cedar Rapids remain at capacity, and we’ve been at capacity since COVID hit.”
J’Nae Peterman, director of housing services at Waypoint, said the level of homelessness in Linn County is beyond what the organization has seen in the past.
“It’s making the work we do harder,” Peterman said. “This is obviously an increase in homelessness. …
“We’re also seeing an amount of trauma we’ve never dealt with before. … We’re seeing individuals with extreme medical needs, mental health needs, just because of the toll sleeping outside can take on a person.”
Rogers, Faust and Peterman all said providing an overflow shelter is not a solution of homelessness. The only solution is providing affordable, desirable housing.
“If you can get someone housed, they are more likely to receive consistent services and that’s where you can begin to break the cycle of homelessness,” Rogers said.
“Sheltering has its place, but what’s really needed is more affordable and accessible units for people to transition to when they need it,” he said.
“For decades, the solution to homelessness was to have shelters,” Peterman said.
But shelters, she said, “extend homelessness and can create trauma or even bring up past trauma. Emergency shelters are not a solution, but they are needed.”
Having a permanent overflow winter shelter, Faust said, will provide a sense of stability. In the past, the overflow shelter has moved from place to place.
“I can attest that the overflow shelter is a necessity in our community,” she said. “It literally saves lives in our community during the winter.
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