Agencies facing lack of funds for homeless in Marshalltown

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Local agencies to help people experiencing homelessness struggle with lack of funding to support the services they provide.

Some agencies helping homeless people in Marshalltown are facing a lack of funds to address the issue.

During a Wednesday meeting, the Homeless Coordinating Board of Marshall and Hardin counties, which includes members representing various agencies, said funds used to help people get emergency shelter have been used or almost gone or no more space is available.

A couple examples include the Tallcorn Building in downtown Marshalltown has a few apartments for homeless people, but they are full.

Bridge Home Housing and Outreach Specialist Shayla McDougal said the funds the nonprofit utilizes to pay for hotel rooms for homeless people in Marshall County have been depleted.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution.

After the meeting, Board Chair and YSS of Marshall County Director David Hicks said a homeless shelter for individuals and families that is managed, monitored and sustained by trained human service professionals is needed in Marshalltown. The needs and management of such a shelter requires expertise and experience which volunteers would not be able to provide.

“To purchase a building, remodel it, hire skilled staff, management, etc. would be a massive investment,” he said. “The monthly utilities, upkeep and operations have to be met with long term and consistent revenue to sustain it. It has to run much like a business. The expenses have to be met with income.”

Hicks also heads the Marshalltown Police and Community Team (MPACT) program that helps homeless individuals. There are donors such as 100 Women Who Care or the Community Foundation of Marshall County which have provided funds for MPACT encounters in which no other emergency housing is available, and the need is critical.

“This would be a person fleeing a domestic violence or assault situation or a single parent with children living in their vehicle in a parking lot,” he said. “We’ll assist the person with connecting back with family or friends and other natural support. We’ll contact their family in another town who can assist and use donations to put fuel in their vehicle to get there. Oftentimes, they’ve burned bridges with their own family. At that point, we don’t have all the answers either. We can just listen, support them and talk about next steps. Sometimes they just need to be listened to. The Salvation Army and a few other agencies have had rent assistance, but that goes quick. No agency or municipality can financially sustain paying back rent for people month after month.”

Since a Marshalltown shelter is not available, Hicks said the closest one is The Bridge Home in Ames. From there, another option would be a shelter in Des Moines.

“Of course, both require transportation and communication between the agencies to ensure there are beds available to the most in-need,” he said. “However, if those needing emergency shelter have children going to school in Marshalltown, are employed here, need ongoing medical care with a local provider – moving might create much more hardship and fear of the unknown. Some do not want to leave Marshalltown. There is no easy solution.”

Police department

Marshalltown Police Department officers, when faced with no shelters or funds available, will frequently use their own money to pay for a hotel room to get the people off the streets, said Chief Mike Tupper.

“That’s not sustainable,” he said. “We need to come up with a solution, and it’s important to emphasize this is not unique to Marshalltown. This is occurring all over Iowa and the United States.”

There is only so much the MPD can do when social service agencies are running out of funds, Tupper said.

“It falls on police to fix these social problems when we are put in that situation, and that is not our responsibility. But that is what we are often placed into,” he said. “We want to help people be safe in healthy shelters. We will try to do all that is in the best interest of Marshalltown, keeping the best interest of the people in mind.”

Law enforcement is also tasked with enforcing a city code that bars anyone from camping on private property for more than 14 consecutive days. It does not apply to families camping in the backyard for a night or two.

While Tupper said officers are not out looking for those specific situations, they still have to address reports, of which there have been a recent few. Right now, the MPD is trying to educate people about the rules and put a plan in place when a complaint comes in.

“The complaints are usually relevant to nuisance concerns,” he said. “If we find multiple people set up in the same spot, in tents or RVs, there’s trash and it’s a public health concern for the neighborhood.”

The amount of the people living in those conditions ebbs and flows, Tupper said. As the Iowa weather turns warmer, officers will see an increase in the amount of people living in tents and RVs. The first thing Tupper said they will do is involve MPACT to get applicable services activated and find people the necessary help.

According to Hicks, MPACT is aware of a handful of people who are living in backyards, lots in tents or campers. They have been actively working to help those people with low-income housing applications, and getting documents in order, such as birth certificates and identifications

“We also know of the hidden homeless that face the same battle,” he said. “People are sleeping in cars, on floors, living in garages or in empty buildings. Desperate people will do desperate things to support themselves and their children.”

Despite the grim situation right now, Hicks said it is not hopeless. MPACT has moved many people from homelessness to being housed. There were a few times in which the team physically moved the contents of a person’s truck into the new residence — something he said The Bridge Home, ACCESS, CAPS and other agencies have also done.

“It took time to navigate their path, but having support really helped them,” he said. “Beyond the housing application, we assisted with budgeting, employment, getting personal documents in order, supporting their emotional and physical health and consulting with other providers. This situation is not exclusive to Marshalltown. All communities of size face this dilemma. We are talking about it and bringing it out into the light. There is always hope.”

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.


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