Iowa City Stories

April 5, 2010

The Shelter House: A Home for the Homeless in Iowa City

Filed under: Local Issues — nawaar @ 11:24 pm

John the “Traveling man” attracts many people with his creative signs  in the pedestrian mall in downtown Iowa City. Read more about him and the business of panhandling in Sherri Healy’s story “Homeless in Iowa City: Business on the streets.” Photo illustration by Nawaar Farooq 2010.

The Shelter House: A Home for the Homeless in Iowa City

By Nawaar Farooq
*Information and content gathered by Nawaar Farooq and Sherri Healy

As residents of Iowa City, many of us have seen the homeless scattered around the pedestrian mall, holding up their signs, seeking our help. Some of us feel sympathetic and offer help, others just pretend they cannot see these people and walk by as if they simply don’t exist.

The truth is, they do exist and homelessness is a serious problem in Iowa City. Although some homeless people choose to panhandle and spend their time collecting money on the streets, others turn to resources that help them normalize their lives in the long run. One of those resources is the Shelter House in Iowa City.


It is important to understand that homelessness isn’t caused by a mere few reasons. Not every homeless person is a drunk or mentally unstable. What is unstable is the economy, making it even more difficult for homeless people to find and maintain a job.

Many people make assumptions about the homeless and rather than taking a more speculative look at the underlying problems, they choose to look the other way because it doesn’t affect them in any way.

There are many reasons that these people become homeless according to information gathered by the Shelter House in Iowa City. Some people lose their jobs; others need to escapes hazardous living conditions, including dangerous relationships. There are those that have mental illnesses and have been substance abusers.

Iowa City has the highest housing costs as a percentage of income of any community in the state according to the Iowa City Housing Project Web site. Homeless people have to compete with students for housing that is relatively affordable.

Also, many of the jobs in the area often do not pay much and don’t include benefits. Some jobs are just temporary. It is difficult for anyone with these types of jobs to afford reasonable housing.

In the Opening Doors brochure for the Campaign for the Shelter House, there is a list that breaks down the recent trends in the homeless population. They are as follows:

  • 50% are women and children
  • 15% are veterans
  • 51% of the adults are disabled
  • 20% of all clients are chronically homeless and suffer from disabling health conditions.
  • 100% of clients have either low or very-low incomes


The Shelter House is one of the only institutions in Iowa City that provides a home for those who do not have one for varying circumstances.

The Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) is another program that offers shelter, but it is a bit more limited than that of the Shelter House. The DVIP provides shelter for women and children when their immediate safety is a concern.

It has a 15 bedroom shelter that can house 25-35 women and children each night. On average, the length of stay at the DVIP is 21 days or so, but it can be lengthened or shortened depending on individual need.

According to its Web site, the Shelter House’s mission is to “provide shelter, basic, and transitional resources while encouraging self-sufficiency” to any person in the community who is homeless.

Christina Canganelli, the executive director of Shelter House in Iowa City has seen many people come through the doors of the house in the eleven years she has worked there.

At times it has been difficult to make room for all the people who request to stay each night. With only 29 rooms to house people, an average of 100 people be turned away each month and have to find other arrangements because it is consistently at capacity.

It’s not always easy trying to find a job, especially in this economy, but job placement and learning a progressive matrix of discipline are two main priorities at the Iowa City Shelter House.


The Supported Training and Access to Resources (STAR) Employment Program is an important aspect of the Shelter House. This program allows clients to create a better life for themselves by helping them find ways to bring in a legitimate income and resources and how to maintain these resources.

This way the clients can work on becoming more economically stable and independently run their own finances at some point. Financial independence leads to a more normal lifestyle.

Clients are able to access these program reasons for a two-year period. Many clients are placed in jobs that prefer and have strong skills in.

The Shelter House offered some of the clients’ thoughts when they were interviewed about Shelter House’s influence on their lives. One particular client, Shawn, had good things to say about the STAR program.

“People that work there (Shelter House and STAR) are awesome. They are very supportive. They help you when you’re trying to help yourself. They make your job easier if you want a better life. They never give up on you. When you are having a bad day, they cheer you up so you feel you can do this (reach a goal),” said Shawn, a single parent and former Shelter House and STAR client.

Shawn is now a Certified Nursing Assistant.

The STAR program has helped 164 adults through the case management program. Also, a total of 89 children directly benefited from the program during the working year.

Other helpful programs include:

  • Emergency and Transitional Shelter: (short term transitional housing).
  • Interim Overflow Project: (overflow shelter services from November through March)
  • Drop-In Center: (from 5:00-10 p.m. the Drop-In Center is open to everyone who may need it and used for laundry/shower facilities, clothing/toiletry donations, evening meal, mailing address for mail, telephone use, place to pick up phone messages, access to outreach workers and staff.
  • In-House Counseling: (required if not for a transitional stay. Purpose is to design client’s own self-sufficiency goals).

Clients can stay a maximum of 90 days out of the year, but most find stable jobs and can support themselves in that time.

Canganelli also mentioned that the Shelter House has an agreement with certain property managers to help with housing for clients.


Fortunately, plans for a new Shelter House facility are in order for October 2010. The new facility will be much roomier, with the ability to house around 70 people.

It will also have separate wings for single men and single women, including military veterans, who will have separate rooms set aside for them. Along with that, there will be an area for families that is designed especially for families with children.

Aside from the actual dormitories themselves, there will also be:

  • Space for staff offices and outreach services
  • Drop-in-Center
  • Training Room
  • Nurse’s Office
  • Kitchen
  • Dining Room
  • Laundry facilities

Food production and provision has been a little problematic for the current Shelter House.  The new Shelter House will be better equipped for food production and will also serve more nutritious meals.

“In the new facility we have committed to serving balanced meals to 70. Dinner meals will be nutritionally balanced,” said Canganelli. “Right now we don’t have the staff that is needed; it is just part of somebody’s job.”

Canganelli also mentioned that the new building will also have a study room and play room for families with children. The current one does not.

Some of the project costs include property purchase, construction, and furnishings. Overall, the project costs are estimated to be $4 million.

Canganelli believes that people need to take a deeper look as to why these people are homeless in the first place instead of dismissing the problem because there isn’t an instant remedy.

“More and more we consume information in the form of factoids. We like that quick fix, almost like fast food mentality,” said Canganelli. “This isn’t a quick fix story. It’s not often that people are going to take the time to come in and roll their sleeves up and get into this and understand the context.”

If you would like more information about the Shelter House or would like to schedule a tour of the current shelter, please contact Christina (Crissy) Canganelli at (319) 338-5415 Ext. 102.  You can also find out more information on the Shelter House Web site.

Please see Sherri Healy’s article regarding panhandling in Iowa City. It is a great look into the life of a panhandler the business of panhandling.

Answer to poll will be provided in one week.



  1. […] more about homelessness in Iowa City and the Shelter House, check out Nawaar Farooq’s story, The Shelter House: A Home for the Homeless in Iowa City. View This Pollsurvey Comments […]

    Pingback by Homeless in Iowa City: Business on the streets « Iowa City Stories — April 6, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

  2. […] To read more about homelessness in Iowa City and the Shelter House, check out Nawaar Farooq’s story, The Shelter House: A Home for the Homeless in Iowa City. […]

    Pingback by Homeless in Iowa City: Business on the streets « Retail Therapy — April 6, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

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