Special Report: Taking Care of the Homeless

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KIMT News 3- It’s more common than you may think, homelessness is prevalent in Iowa and Minnesota. Nearly 13,000 Iowans and 9,300 Minnesotans were homeless in 2015.

Lee Pierce of Rochester said becoming homeless can completely change your life in a way a person would never understand, unless you’ve been there. He said a battle with alcohol and drugs created some trouble for him resulting in everything from jail time to becoming homeless.

“It came right down to it and I was in pinch,” said Pierce. “I said I don’t really have a choice, I don’t think, I’m going to need a place to stay.”

Pierce said when he moved into the Cronin Home, a shelter that provides a sober and safe living environment, his life changed. He said developed strong friendships and people who genuinely care about him and his well-being. “It’s put a piece in me that I’ve never experienced before, I mean, I feel so much safer here.”

On average, people who live in the Cronin Home stay there for 8 to 10 months. For nearly the last four decades, the shelter has provided services to 1,600 individuals. People can apply for the Group Residential Housing Fund grant by the state of Minnesota that will pay for their stay at a place like the Cronin Home.

Executive Director Michael Frisch said the Cronin Home can house up to 44 people. He said he wishes the number could be more, but additional funding would be needed.

“We need to be bigger, we could run a bigger facility, provide more beds, you see more folks come to the Cronin Home, and they get their housing addressed, if you can address their housing and they have a safe place to come to every night, and they know they don’t have to worry about their belongings,they’re more likely to stay clean and sober.”

Frisch said many people in shelters wouldn’t need to use resources like the Cronin Home if there were more affordable housing available, which he said would require help from taxpayers.

Northern Lights Alliance for the Homeless Director Jeannie Kingery said there is a need for more affordable housing in North Iowa as well.

“There are people that won’t come into the shelter that are actually living in places that aren’t meant for human habitation, they’re living in places like houses without electricity, without running water, they’re living in storage units, we’ve had people come to us from those, and some of those simply coach surfing, which is technically homeless, I mean they can’t at that place day after day.”

Kingery said it’s a struggle for people in shelters to afford an apartment with all of the costs that come along with rent.

“It’s a real struggle for my clients making $7 to $8 dollars an hour, to be looking for housing and all they can find is an apartment for $650 a month and they can’t afford that,” said Kingery. “That’s probably why they ended up here in the first place.”

The men and women’s shelter in Mason City helps people in eight surrounding counties in North Iowa and serves up to 500 people in a year. The men’s shelter holds 11 people in the emergency shelter, 8 men in the transitional housing, and up to 26 women with their children in the women’s shelter. During their 30 day limit stay at one of the shelters, they provide counseling services to help look for housing or mental health services to help clients get back on track.

Many people living in shelters in North Iowa take advantage of the Community Kitchen in Mason City. In 2016, the Community Kitchen fed over 1,000 individuals and served more than 50,000 meals.

Community Kitchen director Amanda Ragan, also an Iowa Senator, said the state works closely with communities to make sure they receive a fair amount of funds through the Iowa Finance Authority.

“They look for outcomes, they’re part of the reason we collect the data we do, so we know how many people are coming here that are homeless, we know how what the income ranges are, we try to make it so it’s not intimidating for people, but we just want to kind of get that information so we’re working for solutions to help this problem,” said Ragan.

Minnesota State Rep. Nels Pierson, who serves on the Health and Human Services Finance Committee, said there is need for more affordable housing and there are bills moving forward focused on creating more affordable housing, especially in rural areas.

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