Homeless down and out in IC

BY JUSTIN SUGG | MARCH 6, 2009 7:22 AM

If he lived during the Great Depression, Chris Washington would have ridden the rails. But on Tuesday, he waited for the bus.

“I’ll ride the buses all day. I like jumping from state to state,” he said. “In Chicago, I left a lot of guys who rode the El and the trains … who had options, had income, but chose the lifestyle.”
Homelessness, among other issues such as poverty and mental illness, were the topics of a forum Thursday in the Boyd Law Building.

For Washington, 50, being homeless is a choice. It’s freedom and a chance to see the rest of the nation.

For others, homelessness may result from a different type of choice.

Crissy Canganelli, the executive director of Shelter House, said at the forum a mother must often choose between rent or her child’s medicine.

“When my child gets sick, and I have a job that pays benefits, I can pay for my child’s medicine and not have to worry about cutting the check for the mortgage,” she said.

In Iowa City, she said, there are high housing costs relative to the population.

“In times of economic trouble, low-income people face even greater hardship,” Canganelli said.

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Instead of catered lunch at the event, attendees ate sack lunches — the type food shelters serve their guests, event organizer Laura Bergus said.

The discussion opened with a film, produced by Bergus, that illustrated the homeless plight in Iowa.
After the film, each member of the panel — Canganelli, Cedar Rapids attorney Dean Spina, and Iowa City attorney Tim Krumm — discussed various causes and solutions for homelessness.

Canganelli described the homeless plight as a poverty issue. She said many homeless people she encounters have both mental illness and drug problems, though it is their inability to pay for treatment that is the main factor in their homelessness.

Spina elaborated on the mental illness issue in an story about a homeless veteran who developed a drug and alcohol problem while in Vietnam. The only difference between the vet and himself, Spina said, choking up, “was that he went to Vietnam, and I did not.”

Cangnelli said she sees an increasing number of homeless families living in shelters, with Iowa having one the highest ratios of homeless children to general population in the United States.

The one common denominator is the lack of a social support network, she said.

That’s what Michael Sean Wade was looking for when he moved to Iowa City two weeks ago.

Wade, 21, worked for a year at United Health Care in Dallas before he was laid off in November 2008.

After using most of his savings, he said he decided to move to Iowa City because his girlfriend was from the area.

Unable to find an apartment, Wade and his girlfriend have been living in the Shelter House, waiting for something affordable to open up.

“It’s rough. You don’t have a whole lot of personal space,” he said. “[Optimism] in situations like this — that’s all you got.”

Wade said he and his girlfriend have found jobs at ACT and hope to move out of the shelter in around month.

Keeping a certain mindset seems key to finding solutions to the homeless problem.

“You’ve got to be creative,” Spina said. “People tend to see the homeless as problems and not solutions.”

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