Guest Columnist

Help flows to Linn County overflow shelter

The overflow shelter, in the former Salvation Army on Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The overflow shelter, in the former Salvation Army on Third Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

In the coldest of days, our community has the warmest of hearts. Last winter was among the coldest and snowiest on record. No one knows this more acutely than the more than 460 people who received lifesaving beds at the winter Overflow Shelter.

The Community Winter Overflow Shelter System (COWSS) — a part of the Linn County Continuum of Care — is a highly collaborative effort among many agencies and volunteers, including Abbe Center, Catholic Worker House, Catherine McAuley Center, Cedar Rapids Police Department, First Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, Green Square Meals, Horizons, Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition, Linn County, Neighborhood Transportation Services, and Waypoint Services. Willis Dady Homeless Services is honored to staff and manage the COWSS facility.

It takes a village of individuals and organizations to set up and run the overflow. It’s impossible to name every single one of you who made it happen this past winter, but thank you so much.

To this wonderful community: When the weather turned from bad to worse, you really stepped up. We want to thank the dozens of individuals who specifically stepped up and out on the most freezing days of winter, during the “polar vortex” in late January and early February.

During those bitter, frightening days, we want to say:

To the overflow staff: Your labor of love saved lives. You managed the chaos, working multiple shifts at the last minute, sometimes working over 24 hours straight.

To Bart Woods: You secured our location, fixed our windows, installed our heaters. You prepared the hearth.

To the individuals and organizations who donated: You called and emailed. You walked in the door at Willis Dady with compassion and concern, with blankets and coats.

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To the Cedar Rapids Public Library: You were amazing to our clients. There was food, coffee and cocoa in the lobby. You created a hot spot for clients to use the internet at overflow and you donated books and board games.

To Click Stop: You picked up, laundered and delivered more than 40 bags of laundry.

To Colony Heating: You donated a third furnace because we couldn’t keep the heat up to appropriate levels.

To the City of Cedar Rapids, Hy-Vee, First Federal Credit Union, Fong’s Pizza: You donated sandwiches, pizza and other meals.

To NewBo Market: You donated soup and kept the doors open so anyone staying in their car could come inside.

To NTS: You picked up people at the overflow and Willis Dady in the mornings and took them to the library and back at night.

To the local news media: Thank you for your detailed reporting on this work and the community need.

As soon as one overflow season opens, we start thinking about the next. While we prepare for next year, we will continue to build longer-lasting, more humane ways to help those among us who have no place to call home. We look to you, our community, to help us turn these dreams into reality.

• Phoebe Trepp is executive director of Willis Dady Homeless Services.

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