Advocates for the homeless later today plan to ask the Des Moines City Council to approve a move to expand one of the largest shelters in the capitol city. Central Iowa Shelter and Services executive director Tony Timm says they hope to get the council to approve the purchase of land for a new shelter.
"Which will allow us to go from 116 beds to 210 beds," he says. "With that new shelter we will be able to better handle the demand that the greater Des Moines area has for emergency housing for the homeless and we’ll be able to focus on issues to move those back to either transitional or permanent housing." According to Timm, many homeless Iowans from rural areas and smaller cities often wind up in Des Moines because there are more services available for the homeless in the state’s largest city.
"I believe last year there were about 5200 homeless folks in the greater Des Moines area and our shelter served about 1700 of those," Timm says. Timm hopes the Des Moines city council approves the downtown location they’ve chosen for the homeless shelter. It’s a vacant lot just off the Des Moines freeway.
"The downtown location for the homeless shelter is key because the clients that we serve need to access public transportation, such as bus routes," Timm says. "We’d be close to Greyhound bus service so that when they come into town, we’re right there. They need to be able to walk to area clinics, such as primary health care, government offices — and close to an ability to access all those services."
Homeless housing in Des Moines has become a front-burner issue after city officials ordered the demolition of some huts for homeless men that were built along the Des Moines River. A man living in one of the huts set it ablaze December 1st after he accidentally kicked over a propane tank while he was sleeping. City officials called the huts a fire hazard and they were destroyed on December 11th. With the current weather conditions, homeless shelters like the one Timm runs offer a warm place, even if they don’t have an open bed.
"If our beds are full and we cannot find shelter for an individual, we’ll allow them to sleep in our day room in one of our chairs for that night, until the next day when we can actively look for other housing for them," Timm says, "so that we make sure no one’s out there freezing to death if they want to come in." The Des Moines city council meeting begins at 4:30 p.m.