Public Safety

House fire hits Shelter House property, six tenants displaced

A Thursday afternoon fire displaced the six tenants of a property owned by Shelter House. (Submitted photo)
A Thursday afternoon fire displaced the six tenants of a property owned by Shelter House. (Submitted photo)

IOWA CITY — A Thursday afternoon fire has displaced the six tenants of a property owned by Shelter House, breaking up a group of men that are basically family.

“It’s functionally a family,” said Christine Ralston, Director of Development for Shelter House. “They’ve truly lost their home and they’re being separated from their family right now.”

According to the Iowa City Fire Department, crews responded to 135 Amhurst St. at 1:35 p.m. Thursday for a report of a house fire. Flames were showing from the front of the house when firefighters arrived on the scene. That fire was put out within six minutes, but firefighters then discovered the fire had spread to the attic of the home.

The fire was brought under control after about 40 minutes, but not before an estimated $90,000 in damage was done to the home. No tenants or firefighters were injured by the fire, which remains under investigation.

Ralston said the home is part of the Fairweather Lodge program, a permanent supportive housing model for those who have experienced homelessness and struggle with mental illness. Tenants enjoy peer support, set their house rules and have access to psychiatric care and counseling.

Ralston said some of the men in the home have lived there for years.

“When they’re all separated, it’s a loss of structure and routines that are part of their everyday lives,” she said.

One of the men is now with a family member and the other four have been relocated to the three other Fairweather Lodge units, but Ralston said it’s akin to being separated from a family member.

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The men escaped from the fire with only the clothes they were wearing and Shelter House is expecting that most of their possessions will not be salvageable. A call for essential items went out Thursday afternoon and a wave of donations came in, Ralston said.

“It is encouraging,” she said. “I am consistently floored by the generosity this community shows to our clients and guests.”

While basic items like clothing, shoes, blankets and toiletries have been replaced, the men still need to replace their individual possessions, Ralston said. Shelter House is seeking donations of gift cards for the men. People can also donate directly to the Fairweather Lodge fire recovery effort by going to shelterhouseiowa.org/donate/ and selecting that under the designation.

“We want to make sure they have everything they need,” Ralston said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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