IC emergency winter shelter helps homeless and police

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- As the weather gets more bitterly cold, shelters in eastern Iowa are preparing for more people and finding locations for temporary shelters.

In Iowa City, that temporary shelter is doing more than providing a warm place to stay at night. The Shelter House said having temporary shelter space has reduced the number of police calls for vagrancy, a charge that can include something as simple as loitering. This year Iowa City's temporary shelter is at 821 South Clinton Street.

It's what they call a low barrier shelter. That means people don't have to meet certain requirements, such as being sober, like they would at the main Shelter House building. It's expected to open the week of December 1st if everything is ready. Shelter House staff said their primary goal is to keep people safe from the harsh winter.

"People respect this. We're not pushing services on people that are there at all. It truly is a low barrier shelter," said Mark Sertterh with the Iowa City Shelter House.

Sertterh said more people have been coming to the Iowa City Shelter House and it's emergency shelter in the winters. He said he's glad people have somewhere to go.

"There are not as many people sleeping in apartment stairwells and sleeping in places that quite frankly - and they're just trying to get out of the cold, but they're possibly trespassing or infringing on someone's personal property," said Sertterh.

Sertterh said the low barrier shelter has helped decrease the amount of vagrancy calls police have had to deal with, but police didn't respond to calls to confirm the statistics.

"They're able to bring them to the low barrier shelter and just get them some help and get them off the streets so that they're safe for the night," said Sertterh.

He said their new location for the emergency shelter is very convenient.

"Many times people go to the Salvation Army and that's in very short walking distance from there. It's very short walking distance from downtown and there's plenty of bus stops that are nearby," said Sertterh.

Sertterh said they can help people with more than just shelter, such as job hunting.

"Our goal like I said is to certainly to get them enrolled and engaged in different services that are available to them and hopefully get them into housing," said Sertterh.

It's all part of the goal to get people off the streets when winter comes. The Shelter House is still looking for volunteers to help out at the emergency shelter.