After delays, Shelter House breaks ground amid protests

BY HOLLY HINES | JULY 02, 2009 7:20 AM

Even after the groundbreaking was over and officials and supporters had dispersed, protesters remained, quietly raising signs in opposition to the new Shelter House location.

After seven years of planning and legal disputes, the new Iowa City Shelter House broke ground for its new site at 429 Southgate Ave. Wedmesday afternoon.

The new complex, located on the city’s South Side, is intended to ease overcrowding at the Shelter House’s current location, 331 N. Gilbert St. But some residents have fought to keep their new neighbors away, raising concerns about potentially increased criminal activity.

Protesters — largely locals living in the area — lined the edges of the site, carrying signs with messages such as, “Find a better site, no pedophiles near children.”

“They’re asking people to purposely break the law,” said Joyce Barker, the Waterfront Neighborhood Association President.

She was referring to Senate File 340, a new law regarding sex offenders that also took effect Wednesday. This law addresses the definition of loitering but is meant to restrict the amount of time sex offenders can spend in one spot, aiming to prevent them from becoming familiar with areas where children live.

Barker has requested clarification from the state attorney general about the legal ramifications of walk-in times at the Shelter House. She contended the Shelter House does not screen transients during walk-in hours from 5-10 p.m., and the process relies on the honesty of the visitors.

At least 100 children live in the area, said Gary Moore, a local bus driver. Protesting the Shelter House’s move, he pointed out a childcare center across the street from the site.

In May, Allan Axeen, a supervisor for the community action program the daycare is part of, praised the Shelter House’s efforts to move to its new location, across from the Head Start program and Mecca services for substance abuse.

Not all residents living near the new site were opposed, either. Glenn Green is not worried about the issues that concern his neighbors. He thinks the shelter house is needed.

“Life as you know it can cease in a heartbeat, and you might need the Shelter House,” he said.

Following speeches by several city officials, a reverend led supporters in a ceremonial walk around the prospective site, meant to bring peace and comfort to potential residents.

The reverend blessed the ground before city officials and Iowa City residents were invited to take turns digging.

Several in attendance were current Shelter House neighbors. Christine Sheets, a United Way representative, said she never ran into trouble when she lived a block away from Shelter House.

“The people who stayed there were very good neighbors,” she said.

Fifty percent of Iowa City’s homeless population is composed of women and children, said Dan Bovenmeyer, an Iowa City Area Chamber ambassador and another neighbor.

“I doubt those people are pedophiles,” he said.

The event also celebrated the onset of the public phase of fundraising for the Shelter House. So far, $2.07 million of the $4 million needed have been raised during the “quiet campaign.”

Despite opposition, Shelter House Director Crissy Canganelli said she intends to move forward towards a projected opening date of Oct. 1, 2010.

“I respect [protesters’] right to demonstrate,” Cangenelli said, “but I hope they respect our right to proceed.”

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