Linn County leaders say several factors behind high numbers of people experiencing homelessness

Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 5:13 AM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers says there are several things contributing to the levels of people experiencing homelessness in Cedar Rapids.

Rogers say the August 2020 derecho destroyed many units being used for rapid-rehousing, and the eviction moratorium impacted local shelters. “It allowed people to state stay in their home safely but for those units that are typically used to get people in, it created backlog some more and more people are relying on shelters,” says Rogers.

Neighbors of the Fillmore overflow shelter have recently re-voiced concerns about the number of people living and staying outside of that shelter. Rogers responded to those concerns saying “What the neighbors around the Fillmore building are seeing are people who are sleeping outside near the shelter to be safe but don’t want to actually be in the shelter. And so we’re working with a city and other providers using our American Rescue Plan dollars to accelerate affordable housing.”

He also asked the community continue to give grace and compassion as the county works to provide services. “The community is left with bridges, bushes, that’s where most people who are homeless will congregate. Or they’ll camp out outside of a closed homeless shelter during the summer just for shade,” says Rogers. “All of those different events happening around the same time it’s just made this problem even worse and it’s overwhelming.”

Linn County has also faced difficulties finding a location for a permanent overflow shelter. “The challenge we’ve run into is every person that I know says there should be services for homeless people. But when it’s announced that the city was purchasing a building in the Wellington Heights area, the neighbors said no we don’t want this here in our neighborhood,” says Rogers.

The arrival of winter temperatures and snow adds another layer for providers like Willis Dady. Support Services Director Aaron Terrones says the non-profit works to put resources where they’re seeing clients go, such as the library. “A lot of our clients are spending time at the overflow shelter now in the winter, so we’re working out of there, our outreach team is working out of there connecting them with resources,” says Terrones. “And we are just really being mindful of the weather and if we know if there’s a family sleeping in the car, we’re getting out there at that same day and making sure that they’re taking care of.” Terrones says Willis Dady has also seen the increase in people experiencing homelessness that the county is reporting.

Rogers says this is the last winter the Fillmore building is being used as the overflow shelter. “Next winter a permanent overflow will be on the southwest side by the Kernals Stadium and hopefully that will alleviate some of the current pressures the neighborhood over by Fillmore are experiencing.” says Rogers. That new overflow shelter will be renovated to ensure it has enough bathrooms and laundry facilities to accommodate people using its services.

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