The executive director of Central Iowa Shelter and Services hopes a new building is just the beginning of a new start for many of the people the shelter serves.
The new shelter located at 1420 Mulberry St. opened Sept. 24. It has 150 emergency beds, 38 efficiency apartments and 19 apartments for veterans. It’s almost five times the size of the former shelter, which is located across the street.
“We were overcrowded; we had more people than beds, and we didn’t have enough program space to be effective,” says Tony Timm, executive director for the past four years.
Besides the sleeping quarters, which far surpass what was available at the previous shelter, there is a large computer lab where Des Moines Area Community College teaches General Educational Development classes twice a week, a separate healthcare clinic, a food pantry and clothing closet, a large dayroom, a commercial kitchen, and an open backyard area with a basketball hoop and where one day there could be a garden.
Timm says it’s more than just a new building; it’s an opportunity to better serve those who are most down on their luck.
“We’re able to expand our programs,” he says. “We feel we have a better opportunity to get them back on their feet rather than send them out each morning and tell them ‘Good luck.’ ”
The larger building means those who stay at the shelter overnight no longer have to leave by a set time each morning, which was a requirement of the former site. This gives them access to a climate-controlled building during rain, heat and cold.
It also means those who stay at the shelter during the day can meet with a caseworker and discuss what led them to come to the shelter and determine what programs may help them. They can then receive access to programs that can help them such as substance abuse, GED classes and job training/resume development. They also can perform jobs at the shelter such as helping to prepare the shelter for the next night, doing laundry, washing dishes or completing a kitchen training program in which they learn food safety and handling.
“It gives people something to do to complete job tasks, follow directions, build self-worth, and then the shelter acts as a reference,” Timm says.
However, he says no one is forced to meet with a caseworker, take classes or search for a job.
“Sometimes that’s really easy to do with folks, and sometimes it’s not because of the hurdles they have,” Timm says. “We’re here to address those hurdles and give people those third, fourth, fifth chances and be effective.”
Those who do not try to better themselves are limited to a 90-day stay. They can stay longer if they are attending GED classes, complete a substance abuse program or make steps to address the issues that led them to the shelter in the first place.
New building has a permanent housing component
The new 43,000-square-foot building is three stories tall. The second floor is home to 38 efficiency apartments. Those who rent them must be 18 or older, single, meet Section 8 housing requirements and work with shelter staff to make sure they qualify and meet expectations.
Timm says the ability to move homeless people into permanent housing is another step in getting them off the street.
“They were really added for the fact that we needed more affordable housing in our community,” he says. “We need places where we can help people build good rental history.”
Apartments were available for lease as of Oct. 1. Timm says those who rent the apartments will learn how to work with a landlord, will understand the things renters should do and not do, and if successful after their one-year lease, will receive help finding other, more permanent Section 8 housing in the city.
“We’re getting people built back up so they can get back on their feel and get employment and make enough to pay rent in the Des Moines area,” he says.
The third floor of the shelter is now devoted to apartments for veterans. Veterans had their own sleeping quarters at the former shelter — 14 men shared three rooms — but shelter officials wanted to find a way to give them their own apartment.
“We spent some time talking with them and figured out they’d like some private space,” Timm says.
Fourteen of the apartments were filled as of the end of September. Qualified veterans are able to live in the apartments for two years and have their rent paid for through Veterans Affairs if they meet and follow program requirements.
Although the new shelter provides 42 more emergency beds than it did at the previous site, Timm guesses it will be full most nights. For the past two years, the previous shelter was full almost every night with people sleeping in chairs because there were not enough beds. The second night the new shelter was open, 89 men and 44 women stayed overnight.
Central Iowa Shelter and Services serves about 1,500 people throughout the year. About one-third of those are women; one-third are domestic violence victims; one-third have a mental illness; and two-thirds have a substance abuse problem. Some have recently lost employment, while others haven’t held a job for years. Some have completed their education, while others did not graduate high school.
“Often folks have more than one issue when they get to us,” Timm says. “At the end of the day, they’re still people, and we’re here to provide that safe place and provide opportunities to get refocused and get back on the right path.”
New shelter requires collaboration from many groups
It took almost a decade for a new Central Iowa Shelter to become a reality. Shelter officials realized in 2003 they had outgrown the building that had been constructed in 1994.
They worked with city and county officials and surrounding neighborhoods for several years to find a location for a new shelter, knowing a downtown location was important to access to public transportation and government services.
In 2008, shelter officials purchased a site on Keosauqua Way near Interstate Highway 235 from the State of Iowa for $807,000. However, a neighboring business owner sued city officials regarding the sale of other property shelter officials had purchased.
Timm says shelter officials decided to look elsewhere for a location rather than waste years until the lawsuit was settled. State officials bought back the Keosauqua Way site. Shelter officials worked out a deal with city officials to purchase the site on Mulberry Street.
Construction started on the new $15 million shelter in July 2011. Donations, grants, state and federal money and fundraisers paid for the land purchase and the building. Polk County Supervisors gave a $1 million grant, and shelter officials received a $4 million grant from I-JOBS. However, they were still about $400,000 short of their goal, Timm says.
Fundraising still continues, he says, with the hope of raising the rest of the money needed, as well as some money that can go toward operations of the shelter. The former shelter site is for sale, and recently the 2012 Zombie Walk was held with proceeds going toward the shelter. Timm says it costs an about $1.2 million each year to operate the shelter.
Community members also can help by donating items to the shelter. These include towels and personal-size toiletries, as well as coats, hats and gloves. Donations can be taken to the shelter.
Two local artists also created pieces for the new shelter.
Robert Craig, chairman of the art and design department at Drake University, designed a 13-foot-tall sculpture called “Thunderer.” It is modeled after the Acme Thunderer whistle and signifies safety and a new direction. The sculpture is located near the front of the building and is a gift from retired Principal Financial Group chief David Hurd and his wife, Trudy.
Hilde DeBruyne Verhofste created a mural inside the building that is visible to visitors walking into the dining room. Bob and Gloria Burnett, former leaders at Meredith Corp. and Blank Park Zoo, gave a gift that allowed the mural to be commissioned.
The 14’ x 8’ ceramic tile mural appropriately features birds in a nest and the words of Emily Dickinson: “Hope is the thing with feathers.”