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Homeless overflow clients invited to resource fair

Idea is to help them before they 'disappear' in summer

Volunteers set up cots at the overflow shelter at the Fillmore Center in northwest Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 14, 20
Volunteers set up cots at the overflow shelter at the Fillmore Center in northwest Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the winter overflow shelter nears the end of its season in Cedar Rapids, Willis Dady Homeless Services is hosting a resource fair Thursday aimed at helping clients improve their circumstances.

The overflow shelter at the Fillmore Center, operated by Willis Dady at 520 11th St. NW, will close March 31, and officials want to give clients their best chance at success before losing touch with them over the summer.

“Unless we want them to continue to come (to the overflow shelter) every year, we have to start doing something differently,” said Denine Rushing, shelter manager at Willis Dady. “We have to motivate our clients and make them feel like they do deserve to seek housing because some clients feel like they don’t deserve it.”

Among the agencies invited to the resource fair are Waypoint Services, the Abbe Mental Health Center, the Area Substance Abuse Council, a local temp service, Iowa Workforce Development and Safe Place sober living. The fair will be held at the overflow shelter from 4 to 6 p.m.

Rushing is hoping to address clients need for health care, mental health care, substance abuse support, employment and housing support.

“The overflow shelter has been a safe place for individuals to sleep during the winter months,” Rushing said. “A lot of times when the season ends, a lot of clients go missing in action and resurface during the winter months because it’s too cold to be outside. It’s so important for us to get them connected to resources because we lose track of them when overflow ends.”

When some clients worry they don’t deserve housing because of mistakes they’ve made in their past, Rushing reminds them it was in their past, and they can do better in the future.

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After an increase in calls to police from neighbors of the overflow center and several arrests, Cedar Rapids police began making regular stops at the shelter.

In conversations with clients about how they can be more courteous to their neighborhood, one client asked where the overflow shelter would be next year if the neighborhood didn’t want them.

“We have to change the way we’re thinking,” Rushing said she told the client. “You want to be housed next winter. Next winter, you’re going to have your own apartment. Let’s think about what steps you need to make to get you there.”

Several clients have been employed this winter and some have found permanent housing, Rushing said.

She is hoping every one of them — about 65 clients — attends the resource fair.

The overflow shelter has also hosted workshops for clients every Thursday and Friday this winter. Rushing led sessions on preemployment training, mock interviews, how to put together an interview outfit with very little money and self-esteem groups. A volunteer led self-care Fridays, giving the men and women manicures and pedicures and teaching them other self-care habits.

“When you’re homeless, you’re thinking about survival, day to day,” Rushing said. “A lot of our clients aren’t concerned about their physical health or self-care like cutting their toenails. The clients really enjoyed (self-care Fridays), and they really appreciated that.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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