IOWA CITY — Tracy Turner moved into the Iowa City Catholic Worker House earlier this month after struggling through some difficult times and trying to get reestablished in the community.
Peggy Aguilar has lived there six months as she recovers from a stroke.
Johnese Shannon, now with a regular job at Wal-Mart, is leaving the Catholic Worker House in early January.
“We’ll get you set up with some things for your new place,” Kim Spading, one of three core volunteers at the Catholic Worker House, told Shannon as the women sat in the sunny dining room of the small-scale shelter on Iowa City’s east side.
Turner, Aguilar and Shannon are three of the 71 people who have stayed in the shelter since it opened Aug. 1, 2016. With six beds, the Catholic Worker House provides temporary lodging to women, children and families with an average stay of 60 days.
The program serves free hot meals Saturday nights and Sunday at lunch — when other meal programs are closed — and distributes about a ton of food a week through a Free Little Food Pantry on Kirkwood Avenue.
The demand for emergency housing is so great in Iowa City, Catholic Worker House leaders now are preparing to buy a second house nearby to double the shelter capacity and offer more programming, said David Goodner, co-founder of the Iowa City program and a core volunteer.
“We have a major donor who is going to buy the second house for us,” Goodner said.
The new house likely would serve as a hub for free weekday breakfasts, which have been lacking in the area, Goodner said. “We also want to add free haircuts, foot care clinics, and add more showers and washer/dryers so more people can do laundry and bathe.”
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The Iowa City Catholic Worker House raised more than $100,000 last year from churches, businesses and individuals, and is on track to raise the same amount this year, Goodner said.
“Major donors pay all of our utility bills,” he said. “People also donate pantry food, prepared meals on the weekends, clothes, socks, toiletries, furniture, kitchen utensils, and a lot more. We are all volunteer, and do not pay salaries, wages, or stipends. We do not accept foundation or government money.”
On a recent weekday, a woman dropped off clothing, food, house plants and a second-hand wet vacuum.
Most of the items went to the living room of the 117-year-old house, moved to Sycamore Street in the 1970s, Spading said. Honey-colored wood floors run throughout the main level, used for weekend meals and regular masses. Upstairs, three spacious bedrooms have two beds each, while a seventh bed for volunteers is tucked in a nook beside the stairs.
People staying in the house are assigned jobs, including mopping, cooking and laundry, and there are weekly meetings to iron out potential disagreements. Residents are given keys to the house and don’t have curfews like some other shelters.
“I got emotional when I had the keys handed to me,” Turner said. “I appreciate the warm welcome and the safe feeling I get here.”
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