Shelter House sees increase in needy

BY JENNY EARL | OCTOBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa City Shelter House's new facility —  which opened in November 2010 — increased capacity from 29 beds to 70.

Despite the sizable increase in space, officials say they still turn needy people away.

"We're consistently running full, which we didn't expect so quickly," said Shelter House Executive Director Crissy Canganelli. "It's a continuing challenge given our economy."

Shelter House's new facility was funded in part by Community Development Block Grants — federal funds aimed at helping communities deal with a wide range of development, according to the Department of Housing and Development website. Local policymakers have access to more of the funds, but deciding how to divvy the money up isn't simple.

The city's community-development staff hosted a public forum Thursday to gather residents' input on needs for low- to moderate-income citizens to update CITY STEPS, a five-year plan to prioritize the funding that the city receives from the federal government.

The Shelter House received $230,000 toward acquiring land for the new shelter, funds provided through the block grant during the CITY STEPS 2006-2010 consolidated plan.

Members from the Shelter House, along with members from other organizations in Iowa City, addressed issues relating to the risk of homelessness and affordable housing.

Steve Long, an Iowa City community-development coordinator, said he's noticed an increase in people seeking shelter.

"We've worked with Shelter House the past couple of years to help fill in the gaps to provide that need," he said. "We do recognize that need. It's a high priority."

Canganelli said writing a grant and applying for funding is a competitive process, especially if there is little operating funding available.

"That's what the challenge is — trying to provide necessary services people need to have shelter," she said. "They need the support to move forward so homelessness doesn't become a cycle."

LaTasha Massey, a community-project specialist for Johnson County Social Services, agreed, saying community leaders need to prevent families from being "set up to fail."

"A lot of people are on the verge of being homeless," Massey said. "Yes, we need to build more affordable housing, but people also have other needs, like needing help to maintain that housing."

Veterans have been a target for homelessness, not receiving the assistance they need, officials said.

The new Shelter House now sets aside 14 of the 70 beds specifically for veterans through a transitional program with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Canganelli said veterans in the past accounted for 10 to 15 percent of those the Shelter has worked with, a percentage that has risen to 20.

"Housing for veterans is one of the most important things," said Charles Drum, a retiree and member of the Iowa City Housing and Community Development Commission. "We send these people off to fight these wars and turn our backs on them."

Canganelli said Shelter House isn't sure if it will apply for more block-grant funding in the upcoming weeks. Although more rooms for area homeless would be helpful, the cost of operating new or bigger facilities would be expensive.

Tracy Hightshoe, a city community-development planner, said the funds are dispersed based on applications and the capacity of the organization that applies.

"We can provide brick and mortar, but unless they have salaries for operating and the capacity to continue the project so it doesn't go into default — often, there are times non-profit agencies have to stop services," Hightshoe said.

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