CEDAR RAPIDS — For years, the lead up to winter has brought a scramble to find a location for an emergency overflow shelter for those without homes or other accommodations.
Last year, that shelter — a former Salvation Army location on Third Avenue SE — wasn’t identified until November and didn’t open until December — well after temperatures turned frigid. But this year, a location already has been confirmed before it turns cold, a relief for some.
“Having a place identified early and an established place where service providers and those in community who would use this know they can turn has a lot of value and benefit,” Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors last week authorized use of the county-owned Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW, as an emergency winter overflow shelter.
Long-term, the county plans to turn half of Fillmore into a homeless services resource center with a permanent emergency winter overflow shelter and day center where visitors can use Wi-Fi, secure their belongings, do laundry, have a mailbox and meet other needs.
County leaders plan to study the cost of retrofitting the building to see how long it will take to phase in the plan. But eventually it should settle the question of where people in need can go in the winter, Rogers said.
Child and youth development services, which occupies about half of Fillmore, is expected to relocate to the newly constructed Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health building next month. The Abbe Center occupies the other half of Fillmore and is expected to remain, Rogers said.
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In an adjacent building where Linn County Public Health operates — public health is also moving to the Harris Building — the county is planning to open a mental health access center with at least four providers in early 2020, setting up a full campus of services and resources for people in need.
The county expects to get a certificate of occupancy for the Harris Building on or around Oct. 31, Rogers said.
Before the shelter opens, the roof is due for replacement under the existing maintenance budget, Rogers said. Users of the shelter typically have been called upon for custodial responsibilities, so there is little operational cost to the county, he said.
The county and city of Cedar Rapids have traditionally contributed a combined $52,000 toward the cost of the winter overflow shelter and those commitments remain, said Rogers and Jennifer Pratt, Cedar Rapids community development director.
Rogers described the location as ideal, being so close to the Abbe Center as well as Salvation Army, which serves hot breakfast each morning.
“We see this as a real benefit being in the location it is,” Rogers said. “With the day center, we hope to take pressure off the library and businesses downtown and be a safe space people can receive services and not worry about where they are going to stay.”
Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services, which has played role in the overflow shelter, said the location has the benefits Rogers described, but is a little further from downtown than previous locations.
The shelter is anticipated to open in November or December with hours of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Four rooms currently used as classrooms would be converted for sleeping arrangements, providing space for separation for families, woman and children.
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Last year, the overflow shelter averaged 55 people a night and topped 65 people at least once, Trepp said. The Fillmore location would be able to accommodate 20 people per room, and Trepp does not foresee capacity issues.
Good Samaritans dropping off large quantities of food led to a rodent problem at the previous location last winter, and Trepp said organizers are trying to minimize unannounced drop offs this year.
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