Community

2019 winter busiest ever for overflow shelter in Cedar Rapids

Cots with donated bedding are set up at the overflow shelter, in the former Salvation Army on Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. The rug is made of recycled shopping bags and was donated by an area church. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cots with donated bedding are set up at the overflow shelter, in the former Salvation Army on Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. The rug is made of recycled shopping bags and was donated by an area church. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids winter overflow shelter served 460 people this past winter — the busiest season ever — according season statistics released on Monday.

The shelter provided a total of 6,286 overnight stays between Dec. 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019, according to data from the organizers of the Community Overflow Winter Shelter System, which is a committee of the Linn County Continuum of Care.

“This was one of the coldest and most brutal winters on record,” said Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services, which manages the shelter. “We are grateful for everyone who volunteered and made donations. There are too many names to mention. The overwhelming support of our community during the polar vortex will not be forgotten. This was truly lifesaving.”

She noted, “This was the busiest overflow season we’ve had.”

The former Salvation Army retail store at 719 Third Ave. SE served as the overflow location. It was identified after lengthy search, causing the shelter to open later in the season than usual.

The shelter fills a gap in the community, “allowing people struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues to stay safe from the elements,” according to a news release about the data. Some users of the shelter are unable to enter other shelters because of capacity, past behavior posing safety concerns or active substance abuse.

Data included 218 men or 47 percent, 109 women or 24 percent, and 29 percent who did not report a gender or were gender non-conforming. There were 169 users or 36 percent who stayed for one night only and departed without seeking other services, and another 119 or 25 percent who stayed for two to five nights.

“This indicates the overflow served as a crucial stopgap place to stay while they made longer-term arrangements outside the shelter system, such as resolving family conflicts,” Trepp said.

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There were 121 “regulars,” about a quarter of the users, who stayed more than two weeks.

The average temperature over 120 nights was 21 degrees with a low of 30 below zero, an all-time low, according to the news release. The snowfall total of 21 inches in January was the third snowiest January on record, and the total snowfall of 43 inches was the fourth snowiest winter on record.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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