Search for storage for homeless' belongings fruitless, city says

BY IAN MURPHY | MARCH 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City officials have had no luck securing a private partner for a service that would provide 24-hour storage to house the belongings of the homeless.

The city reached out to 36 different non-profit and faith-based organizations but did not receive any formal responses, said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager.

Trinity Episcopal Church was the only organization to express serious interest; however, it does not have adequate facilities to provide storage, Fruin wrote in a memo to the Iowa City City Council.

None of the other groups responded despite potential support from the city, he said.

Fruin recommended Iowa City officials do not pursue its own secure storage service at this time.

“We feel that a service such as this is best paired with complementary support services that the city does not offer,” Fruin wrote in an email.

Despite the lack of a partner, councilors expressed a need for such a service.

“The need is still out there,” City Councilor Rick Dobyns said. “We couldn’t come up with a reasonable solution.”

“I think it shows how difficult it is to provide secure storage for people who lack housing,” he said.

Councilor Jim Throgmorton echoed Dobyns and was optimistic about Trinity Episcopal’s interest in the project.

“They are quite willing to be involved, but they don’t have space,” he said. “Hopefully, that will stimulate some creative discussion.”

Iowa City is not alone in facing this problem. Fruin said cities such as San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, and San Francisco have considered the issue, which the City Council requested staff investigate in the fall of 2013.

Anita Beaty, the director of Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, said storage is an issue in her area as well.

Beaty said the largest facility in Atlanta can house up to 600 people per night, but it can only store two bags of clothing per person and no personal possessions, such as furniture.

Currently, the Robert A. Lee Recreation center offers limited storage, but only during operation hours, and the lockers are only large enough for daily use.

The center does not have the staff to accommodate a 24-hour service, Fruin said in his email.

Beaty said she would like to see storage for all possessions be feasible.

“We’ve always wanted that to be an option,” she said. “But it isn’t.”

Beaty said Atlanta’s task force is staffed entirely by volunteers, and she said local governments could do a better job supporting the homeless or recently homeless.

However, Dobyns said, such a service is better suited through public and private teamwork.

“It’s not necessarily the role of government to do this on its own,” he said. “We need to work in partnership.”

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