People living on the streets in Linn County skyrockets as winter arrives

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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As the temperature dropped to freezing in her tent, Mary Sand poured a large bottle of liquid hand sanitizer into a bowl on the floor.


After filling the jagged, corrugated aluminum container with a few ounces of the high-alcohol solution, she sparked her cigarette lighter and moved it carefully toward the bowl, lighting a flame as blue as her blanket to dance on the surface.


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As Willis Dady Homeless Services prepared to open its overflow winter shelter for the first day of the season Nov. 15, this is how she stayed warm in a site that goes unseen by most. The first snow of winter accumulating on Sand’s tent roof signaled an imminent eviction as she huddled around the unconventional heat source


South of the New Bohemia district, her tent sits among a little-known village of homeless people. Hidden by hills and trees, Sand settled there when the community sprouted up in March.


“Frankly, it’s kind of upsetting to see so many new names and faces.” — Aaron Terrones, support services director for Willis Dady Homeless Services

With the opening of the low-barrier shelter with no entry requirements for the winter months, Willis Dady advocates expect the encampment to be bulldozed by the city. Unhoused for the last six years, Sand has been kicked out of her settlements in various seasons more times than she can count.

Mary Sand grabs a feather charm she made while keeping warm Nov. 15 with a lit bowl of hand sanitizer in her tent at a homeless encampment in Cedar Rapids. “They say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but let me tell you, there’s a limit sometimes,” said Sand, 56, in an interview. “There is a point of breaking.” (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
“They say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but let me tell you, there’s a limit sometimes,” said Sand, 56. “There is a point of breaking.”


After living homeless in Colorado for several years, the Cedar Rapids native left her partner behind to return to Iowa. With seven trespassing citations received over the course of a month while living homeless in Colorado Springs, partner Johnny Ray Delgado followed her to Cedar Rapids about a month ago.


In years past, the couple survived winters at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain by building an underground dugout. But as another winter approached faster than expected, the couple of Native American descent prayed for a housing miracle underneath the handmade dream catcher hanging in their tent.


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“We’re not bad people. There’s a lot of good people out here,” said Sand. “People see the bad (in us), they don’t see the good.”


Flourish logo A Flourish chart

Linn’s unsheltered population triples​


Delgado and Sand are part of a growing population in Linn County. Since July 2019, the summer street counts of homeless people living in encampments like theirs has more than tripled, from 33 to 107.


The biannual Point in Time counts, conducted by Willis Dady and Waypoint volunteers, help calculate the size of the homeless population, including the number of people sleeping in places not meant for habitation. This year’s summer tally of those living outdoors was the first time in recent memory the number surpassed 100. A decade ago, it was 11.


“The magnitude of people experiencing a housing crisis and reaching out for support is unprecedented. The people in housing are struggling to maintain their housing.” — J’nae Peterman, director of Waypoint housing services

Over the last four months, advocates at Willis Dady estimate, the unsheltered population has increased another 50 percent. Support Services Director Aaron Terrones said his team has gone from handling two or three referrals per week to about five per day.


“We’re not recognizing the names, which is crazy to us,” he said. “Frankly, it’s kind of upsetting to see so many new names and faces.”

Denise Yuengel poses for a portrait Nov. 15 outside of her camp at a homeless encampment in Cedar Rapids. Denise refers to herself as “Ma” and her husband, Tim, as “Pa” because they often help out new residents to the encampment. She says she feels bad taking a bed at the homeless shelter because she is more equipped to live in the outdoors in comparison to newly homeless individuals. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Staff at Willis Dady and Waypoint have seen a marked increase in the number of elderly clients and clients entering homelessness for the first time. Some fear the problem will get worse before it gets any better.


Denise Yuengel, a member of the Cedar Rapids homeless community known as “Ma,” said she’s seen about a dozen faces new to homelessness in the encampment this year. Some have become homeless since the pandemic and derecho. Others experienced a sudden change in their finances.


“There are people out here for various reasons. There are people out here you won’t find,” she said. “There are people out here who you don’t know their name, and that’s OK.”

A wedding photo sits among a person’s belongings Nov. 15 at a homeless encampment in Cedar Rapids. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
But Ma declined to say exactly how many lived on the site, which Terrones called one of the biggest he’d seen in his four years at Willis Dady.


“That’s a number we don’t like to discuss,” Yuengel told The Gazette. “The number out here either mobilizes the city or scares them.”


Wes Shirley, a Willis Dady Library Navigator and one of the most trusted staffers among the homeless community, said homeless encampment clearing is a “constant push and pull” that sows turmoil. Each time a site is cleared, residents lose possessions. With no house or apartment to call home, possessions they hold take on a scarcer value.


“Anything they find has value,” he said. “A lot of our folks growing up never had material possessions.”

Larry Burgin walks past a campsite while going to get food donated by Willis Dady at a homeless encampment Nov. 15 in Cedar Rapids, Willis Dady Library Navigator Wes Shirley (not pictured) said the residents of the encampment know most of each other and look out for one another. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
Denise and husband, Tim Yuengel, fittingly called “Pa,” have been homeless since they were illegally evicted from their last home, she said. As lifelong recreational campers, the couple may try to brave the weather this winter.


“I feel irresponsible taking a (shelter) bed when I can survive out here,” Denise said.


After Willis Dady first opened the overflow winter shelter in 2013, it served 38 people in its first season. Last winter, it served 623.


Housing insecurity calls skyrocket​


“Housing is the solution to homelessness,” said Alicia Faust, executive director of Willis Dady.


The increase in homelessness and the decrease in affordable housing stock in Cedar Rapids, both exacerbated by the pandemic and derecho, have gone hand in hand. A population that was always close to the brink of homelessness became unable to rely on overwhelmed family support systems.

 

IowaPackFan

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Dec 30, 2006
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Why would it skyrocket during winter? I would think they’d say “Ef this” and go south… kind of like most birds are smart enough to do.
 
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HawkRCID

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Nov 7, 2018
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libs caring about a fake news story here in Iowa, but won’t do anything about the border.

I have literally been ALL OVER Cedar Rapids passing through on I-380, and I have NEVER seen a homeless community.
 

Hawkbiz

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Apr 21, 2012
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libs caring about a fake news story here in Iowa, but won’t do anything about the border.

I have literally been ALL OVER Cedar Rapids passing through on I-380, and I have NEVER seen a homeless community.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Driving through CR on 380 isn’t going to show you the homeless community. There are multiple spots in downtown and along the river where homeless people reside.

This has nothing to do with the border or your stupid political stance. Affordable housing needs to be expanded in the area.
 

Chuck C

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Mar 6, 2011
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libs caring about a fake news story here in Iowa, but won’t do anything about the border.

I have literally been ALL OVER Cedar Rapids passing through on I-380, and I have NEVER seen a homeless community.
A couple blocks from the S Curve, by the Quaker Oats railroad bridge, on the west side of the river are about 4 tents and a little community.
 
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HawkRCID

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For the record my response is more a sarcastic commentary on the MAGA response to this, as evidenced by people in this thread telling them to “get a job”…
 
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it's sad that people don't have friends or family to stay with. I can't imagine.
That’s what I can’t figure out. Do the “friends” and family just refuse to take them in? Or do some homeless just refuse the help and prefer to live in a tent rather than with a friend or in a homeless shelter?
 

Fan In Black

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Nov 9, 2001
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That’s what I can’t figure out. Do the “friends” and family just refuse to take them in? Or do some homeless just refuse the help and prefer to live in a tent rather than with a friend or in a homeless shelter?
I think about it everytime I see someone on corner asking for money. I'm sure every situation is different.
 
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the24fan

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Jul 30, 2007
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What a pathetically simplistic view. Do you know anyone with mental health issues? Like, seriously mentally ill? It’s a real problem and It’s why so many are homeless.
agreed. You add drug addiction to this mix and you have a perfect storm for homelessness. Seattle has a great program trying to help the addicted. If you have ever seen Seattle is Dying on Youtube its an excellent watch.
 
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Hendy hawk

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Aug 21, 2002
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libs caring about a fake news story here in Iowa, but won’t do anything about the border.

I have literally been ALL OVER Cedar Rapids passing through on I-380, and I have NEVER seen a homeless community.
In the summer they reside under the 380 Bridge in the 42 nd st area.
Nephew is a fireman and they have been called to area to put out a fire seen from smoke rising from a grill cooking food under the bridge.
 
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Pinehawk

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Sep 16, 2003
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What address do they put on the application? What clothes do they wear for the interview? Where do they shower before the interview?
The shelter. Shirt and pants from Goodwill for less than $5. The Rec center.
If that’s too much for them to accomplish to turn their lives around, then they will be homeless and any well intentioned assistance won’t be enough to change their trajectory.
 

Pinehawk

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Sep 16, 2003
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Mental illness will prevent some from getting and holding a job.
Certainly not all of them. Not even most of them.
Not the people I see on the corner each week asking for money with their creative signs.
Meanwhile, just a block away, fast food places close at 5 pm because they can’t find employees.
 

notlongago

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Jul 28, 2012
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Still waiting for you to acknowledge the mental illness aspect and how that is overcome before debating you simply on “they can just get a job duh”
How very ableist of you to assume 1) any homeless person has a mental issue and 2) mental illness precludes employment. You seem to have an issue with assumption making.

And if you cared to read, I never said "they can just get a job, duh" I asked what can be done to help them fill the job openings in the area. Get off your high horse because you are in the wrong on so many levels.
 

Hawkman98

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What address do they put on the application? What clothes do they wear for the interview? Where do they shower before the interview?
There's plenty of organizations to help with that. Just takes a little effort.