Winter wish list: Ending the need for winter emergency shelter

Barb Arland-Fye
James and Sandra fill out applications for subsidized housing during a social services fair Nov. 7 at The Center in Davenport. The fair offered resources for people who do not have a home. The fair coincided with an initiative to end the need for a winter emergency shelter in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — James and Sandra have been living in their pickup truck for four months. They sit at a table at The Center intently filling out applications for subsidized housing during an event dedicated to assisting people without a home. Most of the programs they apply for are full; they hope the waiting list will not be long. Atop the table are two new blankets and a couple of pairs of warm socks that will provide the couple some relief from the cold November nights.

The social services fair on Nov. 7 at The Center drew 57 people, many of whom live on the streets, in their vehicles or stay temporarily at a shelter in the Quad-City area. Fair organizers planned the first-time event to coincide with what they call a realistic goal: to end the need for a winter emergency shelter in Davenport by Dec.1, 2024.

With commitments from the public and private sectors in the Quad-City region, fair organizers say the goal is achievable. Creating affordable housing is the overarching goal, and more cost-effective than managing homelessness.


Last winter, 386 individuals sought safety in the winter emergency shelter, housed in King’s Harvest in downtown Davenport. They turned to the shelter because they had nowhere else to go. Seven other emergency shelters operate in the Quad Cities; some serve a specific population such as single males recovering from addiction or female victims of domestic violence and their children. Oftentimes, the shelters are full.

For 10 years, King’s Harvest managed the winter emergency shelter almost entirely by volunteers. In November 2018, King’s Harvest announced it no longer had the resources to operate the winter emergency shelter. Humility Homes and Services, Inc. stepped in to keep it open, said Ashley Velez, Humility Homes and Services (HHSI) executive director.

Last January, the Quad Cities Housing Cluster (QCHC) formed a coalition of private and public sector partners and raised $70,000 to ensure the winter shelter would open. The housing cluster also formed working groups, one of which created a plan to reduce the demand for a winter emergency shelter and the other to propose policies to expand access to safe, quality, affordable housing opportunities.

Identifying needs

Three distinct experiences of housing instability emerged from an analysis of the 386 people who stayed at the winter shelter last year, said John DeTaeye, HHSI’s development director. Information he provided shows that:

• About 166 of the shelter guests, or 43% of the total, had some income but experienced minor barriers to housing, such as family conflict or an emergency.

• About 167 people, or 43% of the total, faced multiple barriers to stable housing, such as lack of income, disabilities, substance abuse and other issues. Many of them were experiencing homelessness for the first or second time.

• About 53 people, or 13.7% of the total, faced chronic homelessness. They experienced multiple barriers to housing, including lack of income, multiple disabilities and/or medical conditions. They had experienced homelessness several times and for many years.

The analysis showed that eliminating the need for a winter emergency shelter requires year-round coordination and housing assistance to stabilize people before they become homeless, DeTaeye said.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What would it look like if we didn’t need the winter emergency shelter every year,” said Leslie Kilgannon, director of the Scott County Housing Council, which serves as the resource development arm of the Quad Cities Housing Cluster.

“By taking action now, we can connect people to resources to keep them safe, hopefully housed, and therefore no need to seek winter shelter,” said Velez. HHSI is a cluster partner. “Over the spring and summer months we have put in place additional services and support to keep people safe with the goal of reducing the demand for the winter emergency shelter,” said Christie Adamson, HHSI’s assistant director.

 No empty beds

Shelters such as Humility Homes and Services, Inc. have been consistently full this past summer and fall. “At our shelter we can accommodate 70 individuals a night. Lately, we have been turning people away almost daily due to capacity,” Velez said.

“The steady demand on the shelter this summer and fall illustrates once again the shortage of accessible, decent, safe housing in the Quad Cities,” DeTaeye said. “HHSI Outreach Navigators have been on the streets since the beginning of October. They are proactively identifying persons who are most at risk of having to access the winter emergency shelter when the cold weather is the most dangerous.”

“So far the team has identified 66 people including two families. They have found new housing for three individuals and the two families. The strategy is working. It takes time to rebuild trust with persons repeatedly exposed to trauma, empty promises, neglect, living on the periphery. The next challenge is locating a safe place to go,” DeTaeye said.

The navigators

Dan Bequelin and Chris Dunn work as full-time outreach navigators to help end the need for the winter emergency shelter. They go to the peripheries – bus stations, parking ramps, parks and other places where people without homes spend their days or nights. “We work with all different kinds of people. One of our main values is treating everyone with radical acceptance,” Bequelin said. “We always take time to build relationships.”

The HHSI November newsletter illustrates the work the navigators engage in:

“A row of red, orange, and blue tents can be seen in a distance. As the HHSI Outreach Team approached the tents, they called out ‘hello’ and identified themselves. The tents were zipped up and no one responded. Walking away, the team noticed a set of blankets in the distance — they seemed to be moving. A mom, dad, and their 2-year-old child emerged from under the blankets. … The family is (now) on a waiting list. In the meantime, HHSI is providing a home and services.”

The navigators also work with law enforcement and businesses and distribute brochures tailored to the businesses and to people who are homeless. The brochures provide guidance and a list of shelters and places to get a meal and/or shower.

One bit of guidance to businesses: “Remember, not everyone is in a position where checking into a shelter is an option. Negative experiences, lack of space, pets/possessions and other trauma may prevent them from doing so. For some folks, we work with them towards permanent housing while they stay outside.”

James and Sandra say they cannot stay in a shelter because Sandra has two cats that have been a part of her life for years. She will not leave them, even if it means waking up in the pickup truck to discover that her pillow has frozen. Her eyes tear up, but she and James feel hopeful now. The social services fair provided them with resources to find their way home.

How to help end the need for overflow shelter

To make a financial donation to help eliminate the need for a winter emergency shelter in Davenport, contact Leslie Kilgannon, director, Scott County Housing Council, at (563) 323-0420. The housing council is located at 1212 W. 3rd Street Suite A, Davenport, Iowa  52802.

The short-term working group of the Quad Cities Housing Cluster’s initiative to end the need for winter emergency shelter consists of Bethany Family and Children Services, Family Resources, Humility Homes and Services, Salvation Army, The Center, United Way of the Quad Cities and the Veterans Administration.

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