Community

Shelter House, Iowa City team up to create street outreach and engagement position

Laura Iosbaker, program manager at Cross Park Place, gives a tour during an open house in January 2019 at Cross Park Pla
Laura Iosbaker, program manager at Cross Park Place, gives a tour during an open house in January 2019 at Cross Park Place. Cross Park Place is a housing project of Shelter House in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — If you know where to look, a wide range of services are available to those experiencing homelessness in Iowa City.

But Christine Ralston, Shelter House’s director of development, said the organization knows there are those in the community who might have difficulty connecting with those resources or have concerns reaching out to those who can offer assistance. That is about to change with a new position — jointly funded by Shelter House and the city of Iowa City — that will seek out those in need of services and connect them with the resources they need.

“This is an opportunity for us to go find them,” Ralston said.

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday approved an annual commitment of $35,000 from the police department budget to Shelter House to fund a street outreach and engagement specialist. Shelter House will match those funds and hire the specialist.

The specialist will find and interact with those experiencing homelessness — either on their own or through community partnerships — and connect them with services such as rapid rehousing, emergency shelter or long-term housing.

“We go to them and help them know what’s available, meet their most basic needs and funnel them into whatever services they are open to and what are appropriate for them,” Ralston said.

She said the need for such a position has been apparent for years as Shelter House worked with police to find those experiencing chronic homelessness and severe mental and physical disabilities, as well as those in need of Shelter House’s winter shelter.

“We have known for some time there are people in the community who don’t know how to find us; we need to find them,” she said. “That’s what this person will be doing.”

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The new position is part of Iowa City Manager Geoff Fruin’s proposed plan to restructure the police department toward a community policing model. Fruin told the council Tuesday that he sees the position as a means to divert calls for service from police to someone better suited to respond. Diverting calls from police to other service agencies is a key component of Fruin’s proposal.

The funding to Shelter House received unanimous support from the City Council.

“This sounds like an excellent position to have out there,” council member Pauline Taylor said. “I think this is going to be a wonderful thing.”

Ralston said Shelter House plans to advertise the position within the next few weeks.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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