Emergency winter overflow shelter in Cedar Rapids opens on Friday

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

With bitterly cold weather starting early this fall, Linn County made it a priority to open an overflow shelter for people experiencing homelessness “as soon as we possibly could,” said Ashley Balius, community outreach and assistance director for Linn County Community Services.

The shelter will open at 6 p.m. on Friday.

It’s located at the county-owned Fillmore Center, 520 11th St. NW, which until Wednesday housed Linn County Child and Youth Development Services. The Child and Youth Development Center is relocating to the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building. A ribbon-cutting for the new building is planned for Friday, Nov. 22 at 2 p.m.

In September, the Linn County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved use of the building as an overflow shelter. Last year, an overflow shelter wasn’t identified until November and didn’t open until December.

The county is contracting the overflow shelter services to Willis Dady Homeless Services.

“Our committee is grateful and excited to have access to this amazing space,” Willis Dady’s executive director Phoebe Trepp said in a news release. “With winter hitting early, this will be a life-saving place for dozens of our community members. This is a great start towards ensuring the safety of all people in Linn County.”

The Cedar Rapids Police Department worked closely with other city and county agencies, as well as Willis Dady, on the plans for the overflow shelter. Both CRPD and Willis Dady staff have seen more people sleeping outside than in years past, Balius said. The cause of this increase has not yet been determined.

Earlier this year, Willis Dady and Linn County Public Awareness Committee released a study on homelessness in the county, and its effects on the individuals and families undergoing that experience.

The number of homeless individuals on a given night varies, but in January 2019, the study found 242 people experiencing homelessness. In January 2018, it was 317 individuals.

“It shows what one night in Cedar Rapids might look like, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the full breadth of the picture,” Balius told the Gazette. “When we look at the total number of people accessing homeless services, the numbers are increasing.”

Balius told Little Village 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.

“These are some key services we know we want to provide that don’t currently exist in the community,” Balius said.

Balius said because the overflow shelter has taken priority, conversations about these long-term plans had been paused, but will start up again once the shelter is up and running.

The shelter will be open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day of the week through March, if the weather stays cold.

Willis Dady is also accepting donations of packed food items (such as granola bars, beef jerky and tuna packs), clean blankets and warm outerwear. Prepared food donations will not be accepted. Donations can be dropped off during the shelter’s operating hours.

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