Iowa City musician raises money and awareness for homeless shelter

Winter in Iowa City. -- photo  by Alan Light
Cold temperatures hit Iowa City. — photo by Alan Light

In under 48 hours this past weekend, Iowa City musician Brendan O’Keefe (Cuticle) raised more than $2,100 to purchase a dozen cots for the Winter Emergency Shelter (1925 Boyrum St.).

O’Keefe, who stopped by the shelter to see friends working there on Friday night as temperatures dipped well below freezing, noticed that there were insufficient sleeping accommodations.

“[I] saw many people still needed cots to sleep on. Many were on the floor, others in chairs,” he wrote in an email to Little Village. “The last two people I saw come in were a mother and daughter who could not get cots. There may be other problems but this is what I focused on cots, cots, cots, let’s get cots.” He launched the GoFundMe page shortly after.

O’Keefe, who said he’s “seen a bunch of Kickstarter and GoFundMe campaigns fly by in my internet feed for far more meaningless things,” set the campaign’s goal at $1,133. That figure accounted for the number of cots he thought he could buy locally at $110 each through a deal with Fin and Feather, plus GoFundMe’s three percent service charge. The campaign was funded within two hours and by Monday morning the page had raised nearly twice as much money from over 50 members of the community, with donations ranging from $5 to over $200.

The Winter Emergency Shelter, run through Iowa City’s Shelter House, was granted temporary rent-free space earlier this year in the old TMome building, thanks to a donation from Southgate Property Management. It’s a low-barrier shelter, which means it welcomes those who don’t meet conditions for Shelter House itself, including sobriety. The shelter has been open since mid-December and will remain open through mid-March, but despite the facilities and support provided through the city, county and police department, as well as Walmart, Sanctuary Community Church and Community Foundation of Johnson County, the shelter has remained short on resources, according to The Gazette.

O’Keefe’s campaign yielded more than 400 shares on Facebook within three days. Once the campaign met its mark, he purchased seven cots for immediate use, and by Monday night had ordered 10 more. He wrote on the GoFundMe page that surplus money would go to the shelter, which still requires clothing, sleeping bags and non-perishables. On Monday night, O’Keefe updated his campaign page with a link to donate directly to Shelter House’s Out of the Cold campaign. “I hope that the raised awareness can help the Shelter meet its goal,” he said.

O’Keefe added, “People in Iowa City are completely behind the shelter happening. Crowd funding shouldn’t be relied on. It should be funded with our tax money completely before helping [Iowa City developer Marc] Moen build things and before gigantic magnifying glass gets funding. We probably have the money for all of it.”

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