Homeless shelters filling up as eastern Iowa cools down - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Homeless shelters filling up as eastern Iowa cools down

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Eastern Iowa homeless shelters are filling up as the thermometer reading continues to drop.

More than 630,000 people nationwide experience homelessness on any given night, according to Jan. '12 data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

These aren't just people in big cities or on park benches. The faces of homelessness are on a wider spectrum than many people realize.

Dan O'Brien, 45, has lived in Dubuque virtually his whole life. His current address is at the Dubuque Rescue Mission for homeless men.

O'Brien has been homeless, "off and on for-- it's been years now," he said. "Various situations occurred: losing a job or just having no income and being able to afford a place of my own."

His situation, like that of anybody who is homeless, is unique.

Trisha Federspiel works for Project Concern as the Shelter Plus Care Coordinator. On Tuesday, she and her co-worker Shannon Fitzpatrick went to the Rescue Mission for outreach.

People who are homeless, "can be people that you see at the store everyday," Federspiel said. "Even women or younger or older. I mean, there's really no specific face to homelessness."

"Most people, when they think of a homeless person, it's somebody they pass on the street or in a park or laying on a bench or something like that," O'Brien said. "You will find out that most of the homeless people that take advantage of the shelter down here are really outgoing people. They're willing to help others and they're trying to make themselves better."

Shannan Fitzpatrick is Project Concern's homeless coordinator. She said some people are homeless just once in their life due to a job loss and no savings. Some face additional challenges.

"Some people have mental illness that is undiagnosed or untreated or they don't have the medical coverage to get that taken care of," Fitzpatrick said. "There's also a lot of addiction problems that lead people to homelessness."

Homelessness comes in many different forms, too.

"We have a lot of couch-surfers in Dubuque," Federspiel said, explaining that's when somebody stays with friends and family members but doesn't have a permanent address. "We have people staying in shelters, we have people that are literally homeless."

Fitzpatrick said she sees homeless people of "all different ages, all different backgrounds. I have people who have multiple college degrees, I have people who have ninth grade education."

Whatever an individual's case may be, many people who are homeless in Dubuque are working toward a better life.

"Hopefully, I can land a decent job," O'Brien said, though he pointed out, "it's kind of difficult being downtown. A lot of the jobs are on the west end, and without transportation, it's difficult to get out there and back."

From finding transportation to getting a job and - for some - treating addiction or mental illness, transitioning out of homelessness takes a lot of effort and community support.

"It's not like they just turn their toes up and they're waiting to die or something like that," O'Brien said. "They're actually trying to better themselves and get out in the community and contribute."

He works in the Mission's kitchen and said some of the other men who stay there have part-time jobs.

The Rescue Mission can only hold 30 men, however, and it's already full and sending men to its overflow facility, the Guesthouse at St. John's Lutheran Church.

"There's not really a family shelter, so families have to split up between all the shelters," Federspiel said.

On Tuesday night, Loras College hosted an event called Faces of Homelessness, presented by Project Concern. There, people who had successfully transitioned out of homelessness addressed the crowd, and people learned about ways to volunteer.

Project concern connects low-income and homeless people in the Dubuque area with services that can help them.

Anybody who needs help in eastern Iowa can call 211 to reach their local aid agency.

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