Government

Winter overflow shelter opens early in Cedar Rapids

Iowa City plans low-barrier shelter to open in December

Donated socks are stored in a room Thursday at the Fillmore Center in northwest Cedar Rapids. The winter overflow shelter, operated by Willis Dady Homeless Services, will open at 6 p.m. Friday in the space previously occupied by Linn County’s Child & Youth Development Services. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Donated socks are stored in a room Thursday at the Fillmore Center in northwest Cedar Rapids. The winter overflow shelter, operated by Willis Dady Homeless Services, will open at 6 p.m. Friday in the space previously occupied by Linn County’s Child & Youth Development Services. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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With freezing temperatures already here, a winter overflow shelter opens earlier than planned Friday evening in Cedar Rapids and a winter shelter with low barriers for admission opens in December in Iowa City, bringing more relief for people without homes or other options for staying warm.

The Cedar Rapids shelter, in the Linn County-owned Fillmore Center at 520 11th St. NW, and operated by Willis Dady Homeless Services, will open at 6 p.m. Friday.

While officials were pleased to have identified a site for an overflow shelter by the end of September, Willis Dady and county workers have been scrambling to open the shelter ahead of its planned Dec. 1 date, as temperatures dropped.

Last year, the shelter — a former Salvation Army site on Third Avenue SE — wasn’t identified as a possibility until November and didn’t open until December.

“We really tried to amp it up” this time, said Ashley Balius, Linn County Community Services director.

In early November, Willis Dady already was serving an overflow of seven to 10 people a night when temperatures fell below freezing.

Warming centers opened at First Presbyterian Church and Veritas Church in downtown Cedar Rapids this week as an emergency relief.

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The Fillmore Center’s former occupant, Child & Youth Development Services, needed to move out and into the newly opened Harris Center before the overflow shelter could open, which it did this week.

The Fillmore Center works well as an overflow shelter because it has central heating and four rooms for clients, and was well-maintained, Balius said.

Linn County is exploring long-term options of creating a homeless services resource center and day center at the Fillmore Center with laundry facilities, Wi-Fi access, mailboxes and other necessities. Balius said this is largely dependent on the county’s fiscal 2021 budget, which is due in March.

Darrin Gage, Linn County director of Policy & Administration, said the county is in the process of getting bids to repair the Fillmore’s roof. Other upgrades will be addressed during the budgeting process.

“For right now, it’s in great shape to be the winter overflow shelter in comparison to past sites,” Gage said.

In a news release, Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady, said the shelter will be a lifesaving place for people in the community.

“This is a great start toward ensuring the safety of all people in Linn County,” Trepp said. “We are grateful to Linn County and the city of Cedar Rapids for making this happen.

Willis Dady is accepting donations of packaged food items like granola bars, beef jerky and tuna packs. Clean blankets, coats, scarves, hats and gloves also are accepted and can be dropped off at the shelter.

Iowa City’s shelter

For the third year in a row, a low-barrier winter shelter will operate out of a Johnson County-owned building at 821 S. Clinton St. in Iowa City.

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Such a shelter — open to those who might be intoxicated and not allowed at the Shelter House — has been in existence for six years, but its location has bounced around the community, said Mark Sertterh, associate executive director at Shelter House.

“This will be the last year we have this temporary location,” he said. “We’re really excited about that.”

The Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center is anticipated to be completed at 270 Southgate Ave. in Iowa City by October 2020. In addition to sobering and crisis stabilization units, the facility will feature a permanent low-barrier shelter.

Sertterh said the access center will be a “game changer.”

The current Clinton Street location has room for 30 cots, though Sertterh said no one in need of shelter is turned away.

Last year, the low barrier shelter served 140 different people, averaged 20-30 a night and topped out at 42 people during the polar vortex.

Sertterh said the cots used at the Clinton Street shelter are uncomfortable and prone to breaking. The facility has a half bathroom to serve those who stay there.

The behavioral health center, however, will likely serve around 40 people at a time and have higher quality, more comfortable places for people to sleep, Sertterh said. The facility will have separate men’s and women’s bathrooms with showers and private meeting space that will allow outreach workers to see clients to try to find them permanent housing options.

“We think having that privacy and place to meet with people is going to help us engage with people more and in a better way,” he said.

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The low-barrier winter shelter is scheduled to open Dec. 2. In the meantime, the lobby for the Shelter House will serve as a low-barrier shelter for those who need it.

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

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