Guest Columnist

Shelter House: Nonprofits are nimble thanks to community support

The Gazette asked Eastern Iowa nonprofit leaders to write about the changing needs of our community in 2020

The kitchen and living room area inside an apartment during an open house at Cross Park Place on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 201
The kitchen and living room area inside an apartment during an open house at Cross Park Place on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. Cros Park Place is a housing first project of Shelter House. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Nonprofits have to plan. Not just vaguely, but with excruciating detail, we plan.

We plan who we can serve and how. We plan which projects and programs to continue, to repeat, to rework. We plan what services we will deliver and when, and we plan where the money to make everything happen will come from. This planning process is part of every year-end as we think critically about how to maximize resources to ensure we serve as many Johnson County residents at risk of homelessness as we can. This part is not new.

But the human services sector absorbs and realizes the impacts of economic crises, of political discord, of natural disasters, of health crises and of policies at all levels both directly and seemingly tangentially related to the work we do. Ideally not all at once.

Sometimes, all at once.

And when our entire plan is turned upside down, we pivot. For Shelter House, this has meant changes throughout this interminable calendar year. It began in March when we lowered the census at our emergency shelter facility to allow for physical distancing of guests. By collaborating with our partners in local government and the nonprofit and business community, we moved guests into hotel rooms, and used existing programs like rapid rehousing to get guests into their own apartments. Our kitchen staff and business partners provided meals both on- and off-site, and Habitat for Humanity worked diligently to help us ensure that guests moving out of shelter into apartments have furniture on the very first day in their new home.

That was just the beginning. Our case nanagers directed eligible residents to the State of Iowa’s eviction prevention program and administered local resources, like the City of Iowa City’s similar program, to others. Our coordinated entry lead ensured interagency communication got individuals and families the help they need from the agencies best-suited to provide it. We opened a new winter day shelter to accompany our long-standing overnight winter shelter. And we applied for grants, leveraged limited funds, and found new ways to ask the community for financial support without the ability to hold in-person fundraisers.

Which is to say this: we are nimble. That is due, in large part, to the support of our community. To say we couldn’t do it without you isn’t hyperbole. It is just the truth.

As you decide how best to support the organizations and causes that matter to you throughout these winter holidays, keep in mind what those organizations need most. If you aren’t sure, you can always ask. Shelter House, for example, is usually grateful for volunteers in many of our programs; however, we can’t keep guests, clients, and tenants safe without limiting unnecessary exposure. This means we cannot have volunteers working on site.

If you, your family or your colleagues want to support our work with a donation, start by checking in. Join our newsletter by emailing info@shelterhouseiowa.org, and keep up to date by following us on Facebook (@shelterhouseiowa) and Instagram (@shelterhouseic). If you are shopping locally this holiday season, we post a list of our current needs each week on our social media accounts. We periodically update an Amazon Wishlist for those who like to have in-kind donations delivered directly to Shelter.

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It probably goes without saying that we always need cash donations. Many folks think a few dollars doesn’t make a dent, but our reality proves otherwise. Our donors are children and they are retirees. They are former shelter guests and they are successful business entities. Whether $2 or $2000, every gift to Shelter House allows us to provide meals, masks, and hand warmers. Coats and case management. Emergency shelter. Security deposits. And warm beds on frigid winter evenings.

We are always grateful for the support and care of a community that values our services. But this year more than ever, your support provides lifesaving interventions to our most vulnerable individuals, families and neighbors.

Christine Ralston is director of development and communication at Shelter House.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.