Keokuk Homeless Alliance secures building for permanent shelter contingent upon city approval

Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 10:55 PM CDT
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KEOKUK (WGEM) - A Tri-State organization is one step closer to establishing a permanent homeless shelter in Keokuk.

The city of Keokuk has been without a permanent homeless shelter since 2017.

With a growing homeless population, the Keokuk Homeless Alliance was founded in 2021 to try and make that permanent shelter possible.

Now, the alliance has found a building to house the shelter and are working to finalize the purchase to make it a reality.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that in 2022, more than 500,000 US residents were experiencing homelessness.

Keokuk Homeless Alliance Founder Amy Smith said the city isn’t exempt from that issue, as the University of Iowa has reported there could be hundreds of people without homes.

“Between 35 and 40 chronic homeless and then they estimated anywhere between 100 and 200 additional people that were living in abandoned homes that they called squatters and then in addition to that we know that we have folks that are couch surfing in the community as well,” Smith said.

Smith said the former permanent shelter in Keokuk, God’s Way, closed in 2019.

She formed the alliance to help secure a permanent home for a shelter in 2021, but she said raising money to purchase a building has taken a bit of time.

But now, the alliance has entered an agreement to purchase the old VFW on the corner of 6th and Johnson Street.

“That’s been a huge thing to overcome and makes this whole situation more attainable,” Smith said.

Karen Snyder is a former social worker and current board secretary for the alliance.

“Understanding how people are living helps you to be more empathetic and to be more useful for them,” Snyder said.

She said the team is already planning out the logistics of the shelter, like having a lounge area and reutilizing the old bar as a buffet style serving area.

Upon entry, clients will shower and receive new clothing as soon as they arrive to help slow the spread of illness.

“Each client will be given a laundry bag donated by Quincy Medical Group with fresh sweats in,” Snyder said. “They will go in, they will get their shower, put on their sweats and put the dirty clothing in the bag and then sometime that evening they will be washing their clothes.”

But before any of that can happen, Snyder said, there’s a lot of work still to be done.

“We must put in a drop ceiling before we have people in here to sleep and we have to fix up the exit lights and the doors,” Snyder said.

And there will be work on the city’s side to make the shelter a permanent fixture.

Smith said the zoning commission will meet on Thursday and determine if the property’s zoning will be changed from an M1 (light industrial district}) to a special use permit.

She said the purchase of the 6th Street property is contingent upon that.

That public meeting will take place at Keokuk City Hall tomorrow at 4:15 p.m.

If the Keokuk Homeless Alliance gets the special use permit at the meeting, Smith said she would like to see renovations completed and the shelter up and running this winter.

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