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“We knew we had to do something”: Dubuque organization reinvents itself to offer a home to homeless men with children

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 4:47 AM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Right in the heart of downtown Dubuque is Almost Home, an organization that, in part, serves as a homeless shelter for men.

Gwen Kirchhof, executive director of Almost Home, said, though, last year they started noticing a new trend.

“We had a series of seven different families of men coming with their children asking for help, and it bothered us so much,” she mentioned. The stories they heard shook them.

“The most horrific story that we had was that a man came, and he had been working and, while he would be at work, his wife was spending all the money on drugs, and she even trafficked his children during the day, so he just grabbed everything, their bank accounts were empty,” she said. “He took off with the kids.”

With a story like that, they knew they had to work to help find an answer for these families, but they found out the closest shelter that would take men with children is in Sioux City, which is five hours away. They found other shelters in Arkansas, California, and Canada.

“Where are we in Dubuque going to send a father and his children? There is no place,” she said.

Kirchhof mentioned they realized they had more space in the building, located at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, that they could reconfigure to make apartments, so, after speaking with the board and the congregation, they got busy.

“St. John’s was built in 1852, so it is a challenge to remodel,” she added. The space would need new flooring, bunk beds and even a new shower.

“If you have a child under three years of age you cannot hold them in the shower, so we need to put in a bathtub,” Kirchhof explained.

Almost Home plans on housing somewhere between 52 and 60 people per year, making the most out of their space.

“When I am talking about men living in the cars with their children, some of them had six children, four children, three children,” she added.

Even though it is still preliminary, the idea is to offer 30 days for emergency housing, and 60 days for extended stay if the father needs time to find work and suitable housing.

Kirchhof explained they also got inspiration to start this project from some of the exit interviews they had with men who used to go to Almost Home for shelter in times of need.

“We found that most of them had been homeless at one time or another when they were children,” she commented. “So we thought, ‘Maybe we can just intervene and, if we help some children have a stabilized life now, we are not going to see them in our shelters in ten years’.”

Kirchhof said they want to open the shelter before the first snowfall, hoping to provide some relief to what she says is an underserved population in the area.

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