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Northwest Iowa shelter expands service to the homeless during a heatwave

Sioux City's Warming Shelter opened in 2013 to help protect homeless people from cold conditions in the winter. The non-profit expanded services in 2022 to include the rest of the year.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Sioux City's Warming Shelter opened in 2013 to help protect homeless people from cold conditions in the winter. The non-profit expanded services in 2022 to include the rest of the year.

As Iowans experience another day under an excessive heat warning, there are some who don’t have a place to protect themselves from stifling conditions. One Sioux City non-profit is helping homeless people get through the week more safely.

The Warming Shelter serves the homeless in Sioux City, including former resident Tammy Bursell.

Former client of Sioux City's Warming Shelter, Tammy Bursell, seeks air conditioning and laundry service during a heatwave in Sioux City.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Former client of Sioux City's Warming Shelter, Tammy Bursell, seeks air conditioning and laundry service during a heatwave in Sioux City.

“I'm 52 years old, the mother of three, was homeless for a while and finally got on housing. I come here to do laundry. It's hard. I mean, I'm thankful that I got an apartment, but I have no air conditioning. I live on the top floor. And you know, heat rises. So, it's very hot,” said Bursell.

To help during the heatwave, the day shelter stayed open seven days a week instead of just a few. Today was the last day for expanded services.

Assistant Director of Sioux City's Warming Shelter Brittney Wilson says the day shelter serves around 80 people per day.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Assistant Director of Sioux City's Warming Shelter Brittney Wilson says the day shelter serves around 80 people per day.

Brittney Wilson is the assistant director of the Warming Shelter. She worries about others who don’t use the shelter.

“But a lot of shade has been cut down, their trees, so a lot of their refuge or methods of reprieve have been dwindling,” said Wilson.

Wilson says due to the excessive heat warning, the day shelter stayed open for a full week, instead of just a few days, to help a vulnerable population.  

“We had announced that on May 1, however, we did not receive the funding that we had anticipated. And, so we were forced to make a decision, and we prioritized our winter season. It’s our mission is to keep people from freezing to death in the winter. So we had to minimize our focus for the summer and just have families and those who have extreme limited mobility," Wilson said.

Exterior of Sioux City's Warming Shelter at 916 Nebraska Street. The facility expanded services during an August heatwave.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
Sioux City's Warming Shelter serves about 80 people a day. The facility expanded services during the recent heatwave.

Wilson says the shelter serves about 80 people per day, but she worries about the homeless who do not use the non-profit’s day services. She would like to keep the shelter in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but admits funding limits the outreach the Warming Shelter can provide.  

“I can't even fathom because most are unwelcome at public places like parks and libraries. We've had a lot of donors graciously donate packs and packs of water. So, we're hopefully keeping everybody hydrated,” said Wilson.  

A local church donated water for distribution to homeless people in Sioux City.
Sheila Brummer
/
IPR
A local church donated water for distribution to homeless people in Sioux City.

Bursell found herself homeless after experiencing some life-changing circumstances.

“I had a boyfriend, we broke up, he kept the apartment, I moved out. And then things happened, and I lost my job and couldn't afford to pay rent. Well, last year, I was homeless for six months. And then, for the winter, I went down to Kansas because my little sister lives down there,” said Bursell.

The Warming Shelter offers respite for Bursell, who is thankful for her new apartment and a job she starts next week.

“We want a hand up, not a handout,” Bursell said.

Sheila Brummer joined the staff of Iowa Public Radio as Western Iowa Reporter in August of 2023. She knows the area well, after growing up on a farm in Crawford County, graduating from Morningside University in Sioux City and working in local media.