Guest Columnist

Willis Dady: Housing security threatened by crises

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

Tthe Fillmore Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Tthe Fillmore Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

There’s no place like home for the holidays. But, what if you don’t have a home?

The mission of Willis Dady Homeless Services is to empower clients to break the cycle of homelessness and become self-sufficient. In 2020 the work of seeing that mission through has been more challenging — and at the same time — more rewarding than ever before.

Effects of the COVID pandemic and August derecho crises have caused increased trauma for clients, multiplied staff responsibilities and put strain on financial resources. We have increased case management, outreach, resource support and mental health counseling assistance for our client base. Likewise, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of volunteer hours as individuals who have so freely given their time made the important decision to stay home and protect their own health. Additional paid staff have been hired to cover what have traditionally been volunteer duties.

In March, our shelter and overflow shelter transitioned to being open 24/7, requiring staff to double their hours and support more clients in crisis. As friends and family no longer allowed them to stay in their households, the average number of individuals living outside increased from 30 a month to over 70. Staff has fielded hundreds of phone calls from households facing evictions due to COVID-related loss of employment.

Post-derecho, staff has assisted the needs of clients and landlords alike. Case managers have also navigated unsafe situations to ensure clients sleeping outdoors, in vehicles and other locations not meant for habitation are safe. When the Red Cross could no longer take in the displaced, our Overflow Shelter welcomed seven families who had lost their homes.

This year one of our biggest wishes is to give the gift of a warm and happy holiday season to the individuals and families experiencing homelessness in our area. We will be reaching out mainly through social media and virtual giving sources to ensure that gift is a reality — and we are counting on your help.

What gifts can you give? How can you help?

Donations — Because our client needs literally change daily, your gifts of unrestricted funds will help us most at this time. We accept checks, cash and credit card gifts.

New this year, a giving tree is being planned for clients at our Overflow Shelter. In other years we have been able to hold open house days of giving for warm clothes and supplies. But COVID and related restrictions will not allow that this year. Watch our website and social media for details on how you can provide a wrapped gift to someone who may otherwise receive nothing.

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We also welcome purchased and gently used goods donations at our Emergency Shelter; calling ahead first to find out what our needs are is always appreciated as we have limited storage space.

Volunteer — Volunteers provide essential duties and much-needed program support every day.

Leave a legacy — When you leave a legacy gift, you provide housing for future generations.

We would also be extremely grateful to companies willing to partner with us to expand employment opportunities for Willis Dady clients during these difficult times. What better gift than that of a paycheck to pay for a roof over your head?

Please visit our website at www.WillisDady.org, search Amazon for our Wish List, follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram & Twitter) or call 319/362-7555 for more detailed information on how you can help as we go through the coming weeks and the new year ahead. Any gift you give will help make the holidays happier for our clients — and get them one step closer to truly realizing there is no place like home for the holidays.

Jana DeBrower is development director at Willis Dady Homeless Services.

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