Public Safety

Overflow homeless shelter in Cedar Rapids wanted before it gets colder

Staff and volunteers ready, but first they need a site to be donated soon

(File photo) Cots are prepared at a temporary homeless shelter in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Cots are prepared at a temporary homeless shelter in Iowa City. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As temperatures begin dropping for the winter, Cedar Rapids still is without an emergency overflow shelter to support the area’s homeless population.

The location donated last year — a former furniture store at 507 33rd Ave. SW — was sold and is no longer available this season. Employees and volunteers are ready to staff the overflow shelter — but first they need a location for it, said Phoebe Trepp, executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services.

“Now is the time we get really anxious,” she said.

Trepp said organizers are looking for a location that is walkable from downtown Cedar Rapids and can accommodate 50 cots. The overflow shelter would be open from mid-to-late November until mid-March or later, depending on the weather, she said.

The overflow shelter previously was open only when the weather dipped below a certain temperature. That changed last year, and now the overflow is open throughout the period.

That has a number of advantages, including putting less strain on emergency rooms and jails, which see an influx when there is no emergency shelter available, Trepp said.

“By being open consistently, police and hospitals can discharge people and know they have a safe location to go to and not worry about the temperature,” she said.

Once a temporary location is found, the organization will be seeking cots, bedding, cleaning supplies and bus tickets. Trepp noted a separate issue is the need for an industrial-capacity laundry to wash blankets. A single residential washer and dryer cannot support the heavy demand of washing and drying bedding every day.

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Last year, the shelter served 470 different individuals during a 122-day winter overflow season. The average temperature in that time was a high of 18 degrees with a low of negative 18 degrees, which can be lethal, cause frostbite and result in burns from people using fire to stay warm, according to Willis Dady.

“Our intention is — we have more than a dozen providers around the table — to keep people safe and alive over the winter but not put up another shelter and another shelter and another shelter. We intend it to be temporary.”

Anthony Goodwin, 45, of Cedar Rapids, urged the Cedar Rapids City Council to improve its support for homeless people by getting an overflow shelter started immediately and operate it year-round. He said it is difficult to find work if people don’t have a residence or phone.

“We need a shelter right now for the homeless,” said Goodwin, who until recently was homeless and now considers himself an advocate. “It is going to get cold real quick. These people are going to freeze.”

Those interested in helping can call Ashley at (319) 362-7555 or email Services@WillisDady.org.

The overflow shelter is a collaborative effort supported by Abbe Center, Catholic Worker House, Catherine McAuley Center, Cedar Rapids Police Department, First Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, Green Square Meals, Linn County, Neighborhood Transportation Services/Horizons, Waypoint Services, Willis Dady and others.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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