Letter to the editor: The crisis within the crisis

Beds at Shelter House, 429 Southgate Ave, Iowa City — Shelter House via Facebook

By Crissy Canganelli, executive director, Shelter House

There is no one this pandemic does not touch. Whether we feel its physical, economic, social and emotional effects depends on who and where we are, how and whether we can work, what social supports we require, what resources we can access, just how healthy we were to begin with, and so much more.

But for the people we house, it is an entirely different crisis. They are often high-risk, have underlying health issues and they do not have a home to stay inside.

We cannot provide emergency shelter remotely, and our front-line staff are in our shelter and housing facilities providing case management, employment counseling and other services every day.

Complying with social distancing guidelines means a significant drop in shelter capacity. We would typically shelter 70 guests, but can now hold just 45 with adherence to social distancing standards. With the support of local partners, we can provide a limited number of hotel rooms as overflow. But at a time when so many people are experiencing precipitous income declines, we have fewer beds.

Public facilities and workplaces are closed, which means the shelter is now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additional cleaning and staffing costs add up quickly, and having the shelter open to guests all day means we have had to temporarily pause drop-in services.

We are committed to getting people housed quickly. We always are. Our Rapid Re-Housing program provides deposit and rent to eligible tenants, helping individuals needing a roof and landlords with unanticipated vacancies. But the impact of COVID-19 — in addition to our regular pressure — means we are flying through HUD funds at record speed to help those clients secure permanent housing.

Put quite simply: we are running out of resources. And our greatest source of fundraising income is in-person events like the annual book sale, accounting for one of every four fundraised dollars. In an average year, we would have walked in the door this Monday after raising $25,000 at our book sale. Twenty-five thousand dollars that would provide meals, case management and a roof for people in crisis.

Shelter House is incredibly grateful for the generosity of our community and our partners as we all work to find a way forward in uncertain times. Our need continues, and we hope your generosity will, too.

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