Government

Cold temps trigger overflow homeless shelter 42 times last winter

Organization releases data for winter of 2015-16

Members of the Cedar Rapids homeless community and people supporting them listen from the back of the room during a press conference announcing this year's winter sheltering plan for emergency beds at overflow shelters at Green Square Meals in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Members of the Cedar Rapids homeless community and people supporting them listen from the back of the room during a press conference announcing this year's winter sheltering plan for emergency beds at overflow shelters at Green Square Meals in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — An emergency overflow shelter system for the homeless during extremely cold weather was activated 42 times and served 92 different people for a total of 297 beds provided during the winter of 2015-16 in Linn County, according to the final report of the Community Overflow Weather Shelter System released Friday.

“It is important as a community that we come together to provide a safe place,” said Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Emergency Shelter. “It shows Cedar Rapids did rise to that challenge. We raised money and figured out logistics, but we know more work needs to be done.”

The overflow system, which completed its first year of operation on March 31, is activated at 15 degrees or below. Overflow beds are opened at three local emergency shelters, and as needed an additional off-site overflow shelter is opened, which happened 24 nights, according to the report.

Many more shelter beds are in service on a regular basis, but in emergencies additional cots can be rolled out.

“Cedar Rapids police reported the program as a success, and noted the shelter provided a safe place officers could bring people for a bed and meal during dangerously cold nights,” according to a joint statement from partners.

The overflow system is a collaboration of 19 community organizations. Willis Dady Emergency Shelter administrates.

Needs for service to support the homeless persist, they said.

A “point-in-time” census check on Jan. 27 identified 400 people experiencing homelessness, including those using local emergency shelters and transitional housing. Eighteen people were found living on the street, according to the report. The census included 164 or 41 percent children, 30 percent or 121 women and 29 percent or 115 men.

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On that night, 105 people, including 44 men, 28 women and 33 children, were served by emergency shelters. Data was gathered by the United Way of East Central Iowa.

Planning for next season is underway. The biggest proposal is raising the overflow shelter trigger temperature from 15 degrees to 32 degrees “based on safety concerns and feedback from those served.”

“It’s only open for really dangerous conditions, and we want to open when it’s freezing or below,” Trepp said. “We didn’t open on nights like that last year.”

Overflow services would increase as would expenses, including the need for a second staff member to split nights when overflow is activated, Trepp said. She estimated $32,000 would need to be raised, which is up from the $21,000 budget last winter. A donation from 100 Plus Men Who Care covered most of the costs last winter.

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