Iowa City housing project aims to break homeless cycle - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa City housing project aims to break homeless cycle

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A shelter in Iowa will soon begin construction on a housing project that will provide homes for the homeless.

Shelter House of Iowa City was awarded $2.7 million from the Iowa Finance Authority Board of Directors for the new development, on top of a $463,000 grant from the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County.  The funds will go to build a 24 one-bedroom apartments for those who find themselves frequently homeless, or repeat shelter visitors, and who find themselves too often in emergency rooms or jail cells.  It's part of a Housing First intervention.

"Housing First is a deconstructionist approach. It says you're homeless, you need housing. Let's get you housed." Shelter House Executive Director, Crissy Canganelli, said.

Through the space, they'll offer life skills support and access to health and behavior services. Unlike other permanent housing options, participation in those programs is voluntary, and tenants do not have to complete programs before moving in.

"That's the part that is so different and makes this an innovated approach," Canganelli said.

The Shelter House offers temporary living spaces, but the housing project will give them a permanent place to call their own.

"It's their home for as long as they want it to be their home.  So, it is their permanent home as long as they follow through and pay their rent and do not create challenges for their neighbors. It's their home," she said.

Canganelli said the shelter is able to help a large majority of the people who pass through their doors get back on their feet, but a small number finds themselves frequently homeless or returning to the shelter on numerous occasions.

"People are cycling through our services, only to end up back on the street," she said.

Having permanent housing with on-site resources hopes to end that cycle for them.

"There's no way to break this cycle, given the interventions that we currently have.  But death, and that is a very dark thing to talk about, but it is a reality of what we're talking about. What we're hoping to bring and provide is really a life-saving intervention," Canganelli said.

It'll also ease a financial burden that homelessness can put on a community.  Previously, Shelter House did a study highlighting the need to help those that are chronically homeless. For four and a half years, they tracked four men who were living on the streets. Since the study, two of the men have died but, all together, they cost the community $2.16 million. She said medical services accounted for the largest portion but other factors, such as jail visits, court costs, and shelter treatment facilities, cost taxpayers money.

The project is expected to break ground in the fall and be completed next summer.

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