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Hoping homeless shelter leads to solution | Daily Gate City


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Recently, my editor asked me to take a look at the increasingly apparent homelessness crisis in the area. Without hesitation, I gladly accepted the assignment but admittedly, I was struggling to take it on. I had been privately hypercritical of a couple of articles that were published last fall and this past January highlighting the efforts of a faith-based organization who is spearheading services to manage the crisis locally – namely that of opening a homeless shelter with a thrift store, along with a food pantry that would be open seven days a week through appointments.

Apparently, as I learned, until this opportunity arose to open a shelter along with a thrift store and a food pantry locally by a faith-based organization, the only shelter near the area was 40 miles away in Burlington. Sounds like a much needed and a noble thing to do; but I can’t help but wonder if it really is an adequate, sustainable, and permanent solution to the actual problem of perpetual homelessness in the area. Or, I wonder, is it just another opportunity cloaked by a faith agenda that preys upon the meek who are all but a captive audience given some of the dire circumstances in which they may find themselves? And, lastly, will the model being implemented really serve to lift people out of poverty and end homelessness in the area? Will the shelter, thrift store, and food pantry really allow the homeless to be reintegrated into mainstream and secular life? Or is it just another band-aid with a funding stream serving a few – that once ripped off – will deepen these wounds with no permanent cure?

While I think it is great to see some success in efforts to fundraise and implement programs that connect people to resources and services that are clearly much needed, I struggle with the practice of providing prescribed religion to captive audiences in order for them to receive these resources and services. It not only happens to the homeless, but also to those struggling with addiction, and often to those held in the justice system. In my view, homelessness, addiction, and justice are not crises of faith, but rather crises of society. I found the model rooted in the faith-based offerings happening now in Keokuk with the new shelter, thrift store, and food pantry to be “heavy on the onions,” apparently pushing a specific “faith agenda” rather than dealing with finding bona fide societal solutions to end chronic homelessness, mitigate the disease of addiction, and balance issues of justice. To me, homelessness, addiction and the justice system are a public health and public safety crisis.

I set out on my assignment my editor gave me bound and determined to dismiss any value another faith-based homeless shelter could offer only to find a couple of policy studies specific to Keokuk conducted in the 2019-2020 academic year from the University of Iowa – Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities. And what a find this was – the very keys to the City of Keokuk – and I discovered what is being done to not only combat homelessness, but revitalize the city, that including the work of the faith-based organization spearheading the opening of the new shelter, thrift store, and food pantry. My criticisms turned to powerful knowledge after reviewing these studies which can be found at: https://iisc.uiowa.edu/sites/iisc.uiowa.edu/files/project/files/final_report_-_combatting_rural_homelessness_in_keokuk_iowa.pdf and https://iisc.uiowa.edu/sites/iisc.uiowa.edu/files/project/files/final_presentation_-_2020_keokuk_downtown_revitalization_plan.pdf. It became clear to me that these studies are the blueprints of what I am reading about in the paper nearly every day with regard to the currently in play real estate developments, revitalization plans, and the making therefore of a “sustainable community” in Keokuk; and that the impetus made by the faith-based organization who has spearheaded the opening the homeless shelter, is but one aspect of a larger city-wide plan and that these relationships are necessary and vital. And while I still maintain my stance with regard to mixing faith agendas with services and care needs, the studies helped me understand the many relationships needed to address these issues specific to the rebuilding of a more vibrant community here.

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