Central Iowa Shelter Overflowing Due to Cold, Planning Expansion in Spring

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Due to extremely cold weather Central Iowa Shelter and Services has allowed more people in than the number of beds they have for all of 2019 so far.

CISS Chief Executive Officer Melissa O’Neil said on Monday they had 234 people stay the night. They have been operating under weather amnesty, meaning almost anyone is allowed in, for about two months now

“We allow overflow in our building. We allow it to the full capacity. Our staff runs double shifts and overtime to accommodate, but that’s what we’re here for. Again six years ago, no one thought these 150 beds would be full let alone having 234 people in one night,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil said many of those people that don’t get a bed or a chair often have to sit at a cafeteria table to sleep. The Homeless Coordinating Council is trying look at options to solve that problem in the future.

Polk County Board of Supervisors Matt McCoy said the council is looking into acquiring a “flex space” that would be used during dangerous weather.

“That would actually be space that primarily isn’t open but could be open with beds and cots and bedding and blankets and showers. And provide an opportunity to get people in and out of the cold. That would be something I think that would be more of a long range goal,” McCoy said.

Some of the ideas they’ve come up with is to possibly use old department stores that have been abandoned.

There is also a plan moving forward to build 24 apartments next to the shelter that would be for the chronically homeless.

“These are individuals who have been consistently homeless for one year or in and out of homelessness multiple times. And so this group is the individuals that you see coming in during our weather amnesty, sleeping in tents, outside under bridges. This is for that very unique group of individuals who are the hardest of the hard to house often times they have physical or mental disabilities as well,” O’Neil said.

She said those apartments would take some stress off the shelter, but more affordable housing is needed.

“We have individuals that work every single day but cannot afford rent in Des Moines or in our suburban area even individuals who have a social security income and cannot afford rent in our community and so it really boils down to you needing more affordable places for people to live that provide the level of dignity and support they deserve,” O’Neil said.

She said they hope to have a better timeline on when the apartments will be built in the next week or so.

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