As temperatures fall, new homeless shelter able to house more people


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Kenny Edwards moved to Iowa City in September for jaw surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and is still in the area as another cold winter rolls around.

The 47-year-old doesn't like winter, but at least he won't have to worry about finding a place to sleep as the mercury drops.

With the recent opening of the new, larger Iowa City Shelter House, more homeless people in the area are able to have warm beds in the facility as temperatures fall. The building is housing 52 residents — almost double the number it could have held in its previous, smaller location. And it has room for 70 people.

Edwards and the 28 other residents at the old shelter, plus those in overflow facilities, started moving to the new facility Nov. 13.

"It beats sleeping outside," Edwards said.

As snow drifted down during the Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility, 429 Southgate Ave., it seemed evident the moment came at an ideal time.

Katherine Burford, the development director for the shelter, said demand for housing at the shelter tends to increase during colder months.

"If [people] are outdoors, some come in during the winter and that's the only time they come in," she said.

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City officials also agree on the good timing, especially as temperatures are expected to drop to single digits by Sunday night, according to the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities.

"When we start dealing with these cold temperatures, it's just critical that we have appropriate shelter for people," said City Councilor Susan Mims.

Crissy Canganelli, the shelter's executive director, said it's hard to determine how long until the building is fill.

"I do anticipate that we are going to get to capacity," she said. "We are going to reach the point where full is full."

As the shelter continues to take in more residents, she said, the story of $3.5 million new Shelter House dates back around seven years ago.

In 2004, the property the shelter now sits on was identified as a proper location, with such services as MECCA and Head Start as well as employment opportunities nearby, Canganelli said.

After some local businesses and residents at the Hilltop Mobile Home Court brought a lawsuit against their new possible neighbor in 2005, officials lost their special permission permit to build at the site.

After a time-consuming appeal process, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the shelter and construction could finally begin. After fundraising, and I-Jobs money, the brick and mortar work began in January 2010.

Canganelli admitted she didn't expect the process to take so long.

"In the beginning, I was very naïve," she said. "I should have known better than that."

While the shelter took a little longer than anticipated, Burford said, its differences from the old house are huge.

"It was really just a house built for a family, and here we are servicing 29 individuals," she said.

For Edwards, the plan is to get through the winter, hope the temperatures moderate, and start looking for employment. The Des Moines native said he hopes to stay in Iowa City for a while.

"Besides, I love the Hawkeyes," he said and laughed. "I'm a Hawkeye freak."

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