CEDAR RAPIDS — Two murders of homeless people here on separate days in September drove home the point that those living outside do so by and large out of sight and mind for most.
Some in the homeless community, though, this week thrust their story into the light again in reaction to the city’s decision to shut down a makeshift homeless camp on the east side of the Cedar River near the former Sinclair plant site.
On Wednesday evening, some spent the night outside City Hall, treated to donated food including 15 Little Caesars pizzas. By Thursday afternoon, they were inside, talking face-to-face with Mayor Ron Corbett.
In a 75-minute meeting set up by the mayor, Corbett said he wanted most to listen to stories of homelessness to get a better idea of what it will take for someone without a residence to get one.
The 15 who were homeless or were advocates for homeless, however, most wanted to talk about where they might be able in the short run to sleep outside, now that they can’t sleep along the river.
Corbett and other city officials at the session brought along Phoebe Trepp, executive director of the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter.
Trepp said the service agencies that help the homeless in Cedar Rapids will announce Tuesday afternoon a plan for an emergency shelter that will let the homeless in from the cold as the temperatures drop for the season. The emergency site will add to the 60 other shelter beds available year-round.
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Separately, homeless advocates in Johnson County are closing in on naming a site soon for an additional winter shelter there.
“We do have a site that looks promising,” said Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House, who said financial commitments so far from Johnson County, Iowa City and the Community Foundation of Johnson County will provide nearly $40,000 toward the shelter.
In Cedar Rapids, Chad and Amy Engelbart, who were homeless in the past and now are advocates for the local homeless population, told Mayor Corbett they ran an emergency shelter set up at the Green Square Meals site last winter. On the coldest days, often 30 people spent the night, they said.
Trepp said this year’s emergency shelter will not be at Green Square Meals, but at a different location.
About a half a dozen of the homeless men who were at the City Hall session said they had been living in the riverside encampment and wanted to continue to stay together. The encampment was a community that provided safety, they said.
The Engelbarts and those who had lived in the encampment proposed that they set up a homeless camp for the winter at Linn County’s Morgan Creek Park. They said bus service would be able to transport homeless people to and from downtown so they could eat at free meals programs.
Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson said Thursday the county park isn’t open in the winter and isn’t set up for a homeless camp. It’s a place to visit, not to make into a home, Oleson said.
He said the announcement the homeless providers will make next week would be a better solution.
Corbett told those who had been living along the river that police had no choice but to shut down the camp. It violated city law and the city had received complaints about it, he said.
Police Lt. Cory McGarvey said no one staying at the camp had been ticketed for staying there.
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Chad Engelbart talked about a federal grant that helped Philadelphia deal with its homeless population. Corbett said he would have the city’s staff look into it.
Mitchell Schmidt of The Gazette contributed to this report.