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Sioux City Warming Shelter to extend services year-round

A building with a sign that reads 'The Warming Shelter' sits on a Sioux City street.
Kendall Crawford
The Warming Shelter will now be open all year round.

Sioux City’s Warming Shelter will no longer serve unhoused people only during the colder months. The organization will now provide shelter and community services for 365 days of the year.

The change comes to meet a growing number of unhoused people seeking help from the nonprofit. Executive Director Tessa Shanks said almost all of the shelter’s 116 beds have been full for the entirety of this winter season.

“This year, the individuals that we're serving definitely is a different population than what I'm historically used to,” Shanks said. “I've seen an influx in faces and names that I had never seen before.”

Statewide, the number of unsheltered people in Iowa has grown 133% since 2019, according to Institute of Community Alliance’s Point In Time Counts. At the beginning of the year, 212 people were reported to be living in shelters and on the streets in Sioux City.

Gary Wickering, with the Institute for Community Alliances, said the state is following a national trend of rising homelessness. Approximately 2,628 Iowans were identified as unhoused in this year's Point In Time Count – which counts sheltered and unsheltered people considered to be homeless on a single night in January.

“With massive inflation, we are seeing more families and communities struggle than ever, and that's across every demographic,” Wickering said.

2022 Iowa County Point in Time Dashboard.png
Institute for Community Alliances
The Institute for Community Alliances measures the unhoused population through a Point in Time Count each year. This year, more than 2,000 people were identified as homeless across the state.

Wickering said statewide data has also shown an increase in people self-reporting mental health or substance abuse issues. He said he believes, like with any other population, unhoused communities are self-medicating against the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The unhoused population is not spared our collective trauma. In fact, it's doubly felt,” he said.

Shanks said the Warming Shelter has felt a need to respond to the increasing number of individuals suffering from mental health issues and disabilities that seek housing help. It hopes to combat this issue by offering an exam room for health evaluations.

Shanks said she wants to be able to connect each individual that comes to the shelter with the resources they need to get off the streets.

“We can help assess them with just whatever aspect it may be per individual or family. Getting them connected to therapy or to a medication manager or even to a primary care doctor,” Shanks said.

“I've seen an influx in faces and names that I had never seen before.”
Tessa Shanks, Warming Shelter executive director

In order to extend operations beyond its current November to April schedule, the shelter will need to secure additional funding. Shanks said the organization will consider adding another fundraising event and seek out state and federal grants.

Shanks said it will be a long road to securing the needed dollars, but she’s excited for the expansion of services. She said the day the shelter closes its doors in April is always the hardest day for her each year.

“I won't have to do that. I won't have to say goodbye. And I can continue to minister to them, and to serve them in the ways that they need most individually.”

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.