Phoebe Trepp was described as “the face of homeless services in Cedar Rapids,” in a letter of support for her HER Women of Achievement Award by past Willis Dady Homeless Services board president Samuel Jones.
While she may brush off that description as a “bold statement,” the impact Trepp has made on Cedar Rapids’ homeless population is undisputed.
After becoming executive director of Willis Dady in Cedar Rapids in May 2015, Trepp led a communitywide initiative to establish an overflow shelter system in winter, launched a successful capital campaign to renovate and expand the Willis Dady facilities, and established a permanent supportive housing program.
One of Trepp’s first initiatives at Willis Dady was to coordinate with more than 15 local partner agencies to establish an overflow shelter system that provides lifesaving shelter for anyone in need on cold winter nights.
Under Trepp’s leadership, Willis Dady became the primary administrator for the emergency overflow program, the “triggering temperature” at which the program is activated increased from 15 to 32 degrees F, and the number of nights of overflow services has tripled.
Yet Trepp is quick to give credit to others for those accomplishments.
“One of the beautiful things is that the homeless services agencies work so well together,” she said. “We have a lot of potential because of the strong partnerships.”
Trepp’s next major accomplishment at Willis Dady was launching the first capital campaign in the organization’s 30-year history, which exceeded an ambitious $3 million goal within 18 months.
The funds are being used to add wheelchair-accessible housing, additional units of family housing, housing to accommodate third shift workers and new administrative offices to better serve clients, among other features.
“We’re really close to the new building being finished,” Trepp said. “It’s great to know our facility needs are in the process of being taken care of. It will allow us to do other things that will provide real stability and get people out of the homelessness cycle.”
One of those other things is a permanent supportive housing program for people who persistently have experienced homelessness and for whom other housing interventions have not been successful.
The program provides on-site case management to help clients meet their goals and address any remaining barriers while they work toward self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
“Not everybody does well with a private apartment,” Trepp said. ”The program provides more flexible housing options.”
These options include four single-units apartments that are part of the Willis Dady facility expansion and a house in Cedar Rapids’ Wellington Heights neighborhood, which operates on a cooperative shared housing model.
“Starting in February, we were able to house people who have long histories of sleeping outside,” Trepp said. “It’s really exciting to see them living together and working together.”
Trepp also collaborated with a developer to create Crestwood Ridge, a 45-unit mixed income apartment complex with five units dedicated to families leaving homelessness. The project was the source of community controversy, but Trepp’s efforts to educate helped allay some of that.
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Some of the other ways in which Trepp has improved the lives of people struggling with homelessness include launching a street outreach program to find and build relationships with homeless people, growing Willis Dady’s homeless prevention program for households at risk of becoming homeless, and partnering with Catherine McAuley Center and Frontier Co-op to develop an apprenticeship program that helps clients obtain self-sufficiency through employment.
“We are developing tools to meet people where they are with the goal of changing outcomes,” Trepp said.
• Once a month, Business 380 spotlights some of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by The Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.