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Homeless shelter finally opens, welcomes more residents

BY ALICIA KRAMME | NOVEMBER 15, 2010 7:20 AM

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This is Anthony Balesteri's second time in the Iowa City Shelter House.

The recently homeless 53-year-old spent 11 days at the old facility on 331 N. Gilbert St. And on Nov. 13, he was among the 29 residents who packed up their belongings and relocated to the brand-new 70-bed facility at 429 Southgate Ave.

After his financial situation "went downhill," Balesteri said, the Shelter House was his only choice. He said he hopes he doesn't have to stay long, but he is "proud to be part of history."

After years of waiting, the new homeless shelter is finally open. Formerly working out a small home, the new facility is much larger. It is two stories high — one floor completely for residents, with dormitory-style rooms, and one story equipped with a cafeteria, laundry facilities, and a playroom for children.

In addition to the relocated residents such as Balesteri, the Shelter House will begin accepting new residents today. The old location could only hold 29 residents, forcing shelter workers to sometimes turn people away for the night.

The new facility has 70 beds.

"The quicker we fill up, the better," said Beau Pinkham, a shelter coordinator. "The more people we can serve, the better."

Residents at the new shelter are required to meet specific standards set by their case manager, such as maintaining sobriety, being employed, and saving 75 percent of their earnings.



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At the new home, 70 beds are split among a single-male living area, single-female living area, six family bedrooms, with 14 beds reserved for veterans.

"We found that people were squirreling away in their rooms, and everybody was on top of each other and there was no way for kids to just be kids," Shelter House Director Crissy Canganelli said in decribing the old shelter. "Let alone the adults who weren't used to being around kids, it was just kind of a pressure cooker."

The old location, used since 1983, is a gray single-family style home with a drooping front porch. It will be up for sale soon, said Canganelli.

There, 29 residents shared two bathrooms and mattresses were placed wherever there was space.

"Those were the limitations that we faced on a daily basis that consistently made everybody's work more difficult and also made everybody's stay more challenging," she said.

That picture contrasts starkly with the spacious new facility's chef-run kitchen, dormitory-style living spaces, playroom, classrooms, study room, and family living areas.

Balesteri said the change takes a lot of pressure off residents who were used to crammed quarters.
"It don't get no better than this," he said. "It's a lot more comfortable here. It's only obvious."

Shelter officials are looking for ways to meet the approximate $150,000 annual increase in budget with the new facility, Canganelli said.

"We need to look at other opportunities that are out there and build on our fundraising," she said.

One way she said she hopes to offset the facility's increased costs is by implementing a culinary training program in their kitchen.

Residents would be able to train with the facility's chef starting in January. Their goal is to ultimately cater food in the community.

The new shelter cost roughly $3.5 million— including construction, land, and furnishings.

While Canganelli said it took the shelter seven years to get to this point, the payoff has been extremely positive.

"It's a really exciting time in the life of this organization," she said. "To be able to share this moment with the folks we have on staff … and to be able to see how that is going to help folks."


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