‘A lot of anxiety’
Veterans, residents criticize plan to close Heinz Hall facility at IVH
Last week, Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri announced the planned closure of residence facility Heinz Hall by September of 2018; Monday morning, several residents voiced their opposition to the move in a town hall meeting.
“I think that the residents like their home here at Heinz Hall, and that they’re very concerned that they’re going to have less space, less personal space, than what they currently have,” said state Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, who facilitated the meeting. “Several expressed the opinion that they want to remain in Heinz Hall.”
The meeting saw the Heinz Hall Leisure Resource Center filled with residents and community members wanting to discuss the plan to close the building.
“Heinz Hall is potentially closing, that is the discussion right now,” Oujiri said, adding upgrades are being made at the Sheeler Building, where Heinz Hall residents are set to move. “No bed space will be lost, no services will be lost.”
But nearly every resident who spoke at the meeting said they disagreed with the move, citing fears of lack of personal space in the Sheeler Building, privacy and transparency.
“I feel what he (Oujiri) has proposed, for all we veterans, I feel it’s shameful,” one resident said.
Others voiced concerns about the new spaces they would live in at the Sheeler Building.
“I’ve accumulated valuable stuff, and I don’t want anybody getting into it,” another resident said, adding of his current space at Heinz Hall “I can lock my door, I only have to share the bathroom with one guy; I don’t want to share a can with four people and a shower with a whole wing when I’ve got my own right now with another guy.”
Oujiri said the residents’ new rooms at Sheeler will be partitioned and will have a single entrance, adding the plans for the living spaces are not yet complete.
“We’re walking the space, we’re looking at it,” he said. “You will have private areas, absolutely.”
Smith said the meetings he holds at the IVH monthly are open meetings, and he had spoken last week with Oujiri about the meeting Monday. Some residents at the meeting disagreed with the commandant being there.
“This meeting is not what I had hoped it would be; I had hoped that it’d be a meeting of Heinz Hall residents in response … following that fateful Wednesday a week ago, the presentation by the commandant,” one man said, adding he thought some residents may not have come to the meeting for fear of retaliation. “I don’t feel that the commandant should be at this meeting.”
At least one of the residents at the meeting said she is willing to adapt to the move.
“I, for one, understand the move, and I will adjust to it just as I have adjusted to coming to Heinz Hall,” she said, adding it is difficult to move supplies and residents between the residence hall and the rest of the IVH campus every day.
Former U.S. Special Ambassador to Latin America Carlos Portes also shared his thoughts on the situation.
“The lack of transparency in the answers leaves a lot of questions, and a lot of anxiety,” he said. “I think the time has come to look at solutions that are practical.”
Portes called for an immediate, in-depth investigation by the state legislature into the plans to close Heinz Hall.
“They have prepaid their rent for life, because they gave their life to save this country,” he said of the residents, adding that the planned closure is “totally immoral, it is indecent and not only shameful, but it is something that cannot be accepted as a solution.”
Portes also called for the formation of a residence council.
“I believe that you should form a residence council immediately, and put it to force to work with the other organizations that are here today, from the veterans side, from the union side,” he said.
AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan, also in attendance, had strong feelings about the planned closure.
“We’re going backwards, commandant … I believe we’re going back to [ex-Commandant David] Worley’s way of running this institution,” he said directly to Oujiri.
Homan also encouraged residents to organize and fight the closure.
“You should have a say in what goes on here,” he said. “It is apparent to me, today, that you don’t have a say; the 800-pound gorilla is this is being done so the Republicans in Des Moines can clean up their financial mess that they’ve made for the last seven years.”
Homan also said he would be willing to take legal action on the issue.
“I’ve sued this governor [Kim Reynolds] three times, I’ve got a fourth lawsuit going right now,” he said. “If we have to, if we can, if there’s a way I can help, we’ll sue this commandant.”
Smith said he favors residents’ involvement in decisions like the Heinz Hall plan.
“I think input from people in the community, people who live here, will always be welcome,” he said, adding he will meet with House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, on Nov. 30. “I will ask her to have the Government Oversight Committee of the Iowa House look at this issue.”
Portes also said he thinks the next meeting on the planned closure should be held privately among hall residents. If that cannot be done, he suggested inviting media to cover the meeting.
“If we’re saying that this is a shameful act, then it needs to be aired, it needs to be put forth,” he said. “When that occurs, and people in the state are surveyed as to what is occurring here, there will be a completely different outcome.”
No exact meeting date was set on Monday for further discussion of the Heinz Hall move, but Smith said he will continue to hold monthly meetings at the IVH.
Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org