Iowa’s homeless residents are suffering in our recent spell of cold weather but many community groups are working to see the least fortunate have a holiday, too. In Davenport one haven is the John Lewis Coffee Shop. Director Kate Ridgeway says John Lewis was a homeless man who died one night in 1988 in a fire he’d set to keep warm. In response to his death, the community created an overnight coffeeshop, where homeless people could come in and keep warm. Since then she says it’s grown to include a shelter, transitional housing and other services. Ridgeway was one of the volunteers who raised her hand at a community meeting in 1988 and she’s been working at the shop ever since. The coffeeshop collaborates with other agencies including the Salvation Army, housing agencies, the city and county, to create a continuum of services that can help anyone froma child to a single man who’s a homeless senior citizen. Organizers realized that the very poor need more than just a place to sleep for a few hours. She says through its day shelter and emergency shelters for men, women and youth, John Lewis provides access to a free public phone, laundry and a shower, something people with a home take for granted. Like other shelters around the state, it tries to provide “compassionate services,” basic needs plus other services that encourage self-sufficiency. In the shelter for single men they house 50 to 55 men a night, and the program can shelter about 16 women and about 16 homeless teens per night. Ridgeway says the most basic need is not heat, food or shelter. First and foremost, they offer respect and dignity to anyone who comes into the program’s shelters, whether they be a donor or someone who doesn’t have a home. That approach has ensured continued community support, and helped the program provide safe housing with few challenges. The tradition of the volunteers at the John Lewis Coffee Shop is to get pizza and soda on Christmas Eve and share it with whichever clients are spending the night. Corporate sponsors including John Deere and Alcoa provide gifts for the clients.
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