New homeless shelter is an important step for Shelter House and for Iowa City


Today is a turning point in a long struggle for Shelter House. Today, the organization — which provides support to eastern Iowa’s homeless population — will break ground on its new facility at 429 Southgate Ave. This new facility will be bigger and better equipped to properly care for Iowa City’s homeless population. Its location will also allow people with addiction easier access to treatment. The services the new facility will provide will assist people in becoming better citizens.

Ultimately, this new facility will benefit the people of Shelter House as well the rest of Iowa City’s population. The people working for the shelter should be proud of their achievement. Construction of the new facility has not been an easy undertaking for the nonprofit. Plans to develop a larger and better-equipped facility started around seven years ago. It took Shelter House two years to find a suitable location, because of both budget constraints and the zoning regulations the facility must abide by.

Legal hurdles by various groups opposed to Shelter House’s new location have acted as a barrier to the project’s moving forward. Residents from a trailer park near the new site argued having a homeless shelter so close would lower their property values. The lawsuits by potential neighbors reached the Iowa Court of Appeals. Fortunately, voices of reason prevailed, and the court allowed Shelter House to go through with construction.

But as soon as the group successfully hopped over legal hurdles, we were in the midst of an historic recession, and fundraising became a much more difficult task. Shelter House Director Crissy Canganelli said donors had wished to give larger amounts but refrained from doing so because of increasing economic hardship.

It is understandable that some people might have reservations. Some homeless people have problems ranging from mental-health issues to criminal behavior, but not all homeless people are dangerous transients. Canganelli said that roughly half of Shelter House’s population are women with children, often fleeing abusive homes. Additionally, most criminal citations to the shelter’s inhabitants are for alcohol-related infractions rather than violent crimes.

Alcohol and other substance abuse are problems for approximately one-third of Shelter House’s residents, Canganelli said. That is one key reason the new location is a good idea. The future shelter’s proximity to both MECCA — a substance-abuse treatment center — and a Head Start program will benefit two of the largest groups in the Shelter House: people with substance-abuse problems and women with small children. People with addictions may attend MECCA while staying at Shelter House, and women may leave their small children at Head Start while they are also at Shelter House.

That relationship benefits both the people needing these programs as well as the rest of the community. People receiving treatment at MECCA can better function in society, and women can find a job knowing their child is receiving a proper education and other benefits at Head Start. Both of these options could eventually make the people self-sufficient and no longer in need of Shelter House’s services.

The Shelter House’s new facility itself provides much more benefit to its residents and the city than the older house. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the new location is that it will be more environmentally friendly. The new location will use geo-thermal power instead of a gas furnace for heat, reducing both power use and Iowa City’s carbon footprint. The new location will also maintain separate floors for residents and people in general use of the facility.

Shelter House has had to fight an uphill battle so that it may adequately provide services to the people who need it the most. It has won that battle, and for now, a long struggle has come to an end. This ending however, also begins a new chapter for both Shelter House and Iowa City. Both should take full advantage of that.

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