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City downplays homelessness official

BY TING XUAN TAN | JUNE 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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As Des Moines currently looks into hiring a homeless service coordinator to handle its homelessness problem, some Iowa City officials are unsure if they’ll follow suit.

“Whether or not a coordinator is the best fit for Iowa City, I’m not sure,” City Councilor Kingsley Botchway II said. “However, it sounds like an amazing opportunity to do something related to the homeless population and coordinating needs or services for them.”

Botchway said he would bring the idea up to City Manager Tom Markus and discuss the options related to it.

However, one city official said the city might not need a homeless-service coordinator with the different social service agencies, such as the Shelter House and the National Coalition for the Homeless, assisting the community.

“Johnson County benefits from a strong network of social-service agencies that support individuals and families that are homeless or near homeless,” said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager.

Fruin said the city relies on the area agencies to identify additional needs of the community and consider other partnerships that will help its ability to serve the community.

In September 2013, the City Council approved a new ordinance regarding loitering policies in downtown.

With the ordinance, unattended personal property can be seized, and storage of personal property downtown and lying on benches between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. are prohibited.

However, during the harsh winter, city officials allowed the homeless to stay in the City Hall lobby overnight.

The program helped reduce the number of trespasses, as well as saved the city some money because there were fewer calls to the police regarding trespasses.

Even if a homeless-service coordinator may not be the best option to improve the homelessness issue in Iowa City, it is still an important concern, and other methods will have to be identified to combat the problem, police Lt. Mike Brotherton wrote in an email.

The homelessness issue is not just a police problem but a community issue as well and has to be addressed, Brotherton said. However, there is not enough funding, and the responses to these issues have been lethargic. Stakeholders have also shown little interest to begin rectifying the issue.

“There is definitely a need for persons who we classify as services resistant,” Brotherton said. “Many of the services-resistant homeless population suffer from substance-abuse and mental-instability issues. They find it difficult to follow set rules, and their personal struggles disqualify them from benefiting from many of the services the city provides.”


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