Cedar Rapids emergency overflow shelter being ‘heavily used’ and facing challenges

The Fillmore Center, Nov. 14. 2019. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The emergency overflow shelter in Cedar Rapids has been “heavily used” this winter season, people involved with running the shelter told the Cedar Rapids City Council last week.

As of Jan. 22, the shelter has served 251 unique individuals since November, with 138 people staying more than one week, J’nae Peterman said during the city council’s Jan. 28 meeting. Peterman is the director of homeless and housing services at Waypoint, an organization that provides support for individuals experiencing domestic violence, homelessness and poverty.

During the 2018-19 winter, 467 individuals used the shelter, with 35 people staying more than half the time.

“The overflow shelter really acts as a life-saving measure, and without that support, I don’t know what would happen to those folks,” said Ashley Balius, community outreach and assistance director for Linn County Community Services.

The shelter, located at the county-owned Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW, opened earlier than usual due to bitterly cold weather in the fall. The county contracts the overflow shelter services to Willis Dady Homeless Services.

During the city council meeting, Mayor Brad Hart asked about the increased police presence at the shelter this year. KCRG reported the Cedar Rapids Police Department has responded to 56 calls since November, with 34 of the calls being for disturbance, intoxication or trespassing.

“There’s two sides to the coin,” Willis Dady executive director Phoebe Trepp said. “We are really fortunate to work with the Cedar Rapids Police Department as closely as we do. We had experienced more calls in the beginning of our season than we did last year, however, looking to two years ago, when we were on 33rd Avenue, we also experienced a high volume [of calls].”

One of the changes that was implemented last week is that officers now walk through twice every night, Trepp said.

“That’s helped tremendously because people know that this is a place that they should be calm, getting into bed and going to sleep,” Trepp said.

“We do allow people to come in intoxicated. There’s not a lot of other resources, and we’re trying to divert people who are intoxicated from being on the street or having to go to jail when they’re simply intoxicated. We’re doing some things to try to remedy that by just having more presence, but unfortunately, that means there’s more police cars in the neighborhood because they’re coming to make sure everything is under control.”

Another change made last week is Willis Dady will no longer offer shuttle rides to the shelter Monday through Friday, KCRG also reported. Rides will still be offered in the mornings to those leaving the shelter, as well as to and from the shelter on Saturday and Sunday.

Trepp told KCRG the reason for this change is to “recognize duplicating services” since majority of the people who use the shelter get a free bus ride through health insurance or another program.

Willis Dady is helping clients navigate the available resources, and Trepp mentioned how these resources will be helpful after the overflow shelter is closed for the season.

The overflow shelter is open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day of the week and is expected to stay open through March.

Balius told Little Village in November that the county has long-term plans in mind to address homelessness, including a homeless services resource center and a day center. Some of the needs that have been identified include a place for those who are homeless to do laundry, shower, store their items and have a safe space to go during the day.

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