Early episodes of bone-chilling weather, a persistent shortage of affordable housing and emergency shelters running at capacity leave too many people without a roof over their heads in southeast Iowa. Bringing people in from the cold requires a multifaceted, collaborative approach that requires buy-in from all of us to solve the crisis for the long term.
This week’s Catholic Messenger features a front-page story about the Quad City Housing Cluster’s five-year initiative to eliminate the need for an overflow winter emergency shelter in Davenport by ensuring people have the resources they need to maintain stable housing on their own. This initiative deserves our financial support. It could also provide a template for other communities in the Diocese of Davenport. To make a financial donation, contact Leslie Kilgannon, director, Scott County Housing Council, at (563) 323-0420.
Meanwhile, the overflow winter emergency shelter opens Dec. 1 at King’s Harvest in Davenport. However, this year that date does not come soon enough for approximately 100 families on a waiting list for shelter with the Salvation Army Quad Cities Family Services. That list does not include people seeking safety at the other six emergency shelters in the Quad Cities.
People on emergency shelter waiting lists, and the entities providing for their immediate needs, focus on getting people out of the cold, now. Opening the winter emergency shelter earlier than Dec. 1, as at least one advocate for the homeless has asked, does not appear to be realistic given the logistics and fundraising necessary to make that happen.
John Cooper, pastoral associate of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, makes a good point, however, that shelters in the Quad Cities are already at capacity and people suffer because of it. He is not criticizing the proactive initiative underway, but questions whether “we’ve made it crystal clear to the Quad Cities that there’s not enough emergency shelter on a regular basis.”
Cooper sees plenty of people in need, stopping for a meal at McAnthony Window, a ministry of the parish. He said a diner named Mike had spent the previous night sleeping in a parking garage. Two weeks ago, Cooper received a call from a desperate family, two parents and their two teenage children, living in their truck in a Davenport park. Cooper connected the family to the Salvation Army, which fortunately, had a motel spot open for the family to stay temporarily as they worked to secure housing.
“We need to ask Quad-Citians ‘How cold is too cold? Thirty degrees, 20, 10, or zero degrees? Do we want to run the risk of someone freezing?’ One morning last January, I watched a half-frozen man pass out on Main Street across from St. Anthony’s,” Cooper said. “Snow had mounded up on the sidewalk. If I had not seen him go down, no one would have seen him from the street. He may have died without medical attention due to extreme exposure of being out in zero degree weather that night.”
Parishes, social service agencies, businesses and governmental entities need to step up to the plate to address this crisis. That means getting creative about providing shelter immediately so that no one freezes to death or faces injury or illness these remaining 17 days before the winter emergency shelter opens. Remember, people who experience homelessness have no one else to turn to. The Gospel calls us to bring them in from the cold. That call includes supporting the Quad City Housing Cluster initiative already underway.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor