Clinton OKs $500,000 for homeless housing project

·3 min read

Jun. 23—CLINTON — After a question-and-answer session in which two Clinton councilwomen detailed their concerns, the Clinton City Council voted Wednesday night to commit $500,000 to the potential construction of a supportive housing project for Clinton's homeless.

The Clinton City Council voted 6-1 to make the commitment, which will be combined with the Clinton County Board of Supervisors' $500,000 pledge toward the project. The two entities' show of support will be detailed in a National Housing Trust Fund application as the YWCA Empowerment Center seeks a $4 million grant to build the $5 million project.

A study by the United Way of Clinton County indicates 38% of the local community struggles to make ends meet and ultimately is at risk of homelessness, which has been identified as one of the top four health concerns in Clinton County. The goal is to create a facility aimed at reducing the public cost of serving the homeless community and bringing individuals back into the workforce.

"We are very excited to have the support of both our City Council and our county Board of Supervisors; we're thrilled that we're coming up with a community-minded solution to address homelessness in our community," YWCA Executive Director Shannon Sander-Welzien told the Herald after the vote.

She said a lot of work will go into completing the application over the next week and a half to get exhibits and amendments together for the application. Work also will include speaking to those living near the project's planned site.

The Supervisors made their commitment early last week, with the City Council taking up the discussion last Wednesday. The council at that time approved forwarding the request to a special City Council meeting Wednesday for action.

The vote Wednesday night was taken after At-Large Councilwoman Nancy Witt detailed her personal story in connection with subsidized housing and her unwillingness to support the project based on her experiences. She was the lone dissenting vote.

Ward 4 City Councilwoman Rhonda Kearns said she wished the City Council had been brought in for discussions during the planning stage so the council would have had some input on selection of the location. If awarded grant funding, the facility will be built west of the Clinton County Law Center on land that holds a parking lot owned by the Clinton County Board of Supervisors.

Ward 1 Council Bill Schemers, who served as a council liaison during the discussions, said he took notes of the half dozen meetings he attended and forwarded them on to city officials, and that the council knew for several months that a supportive housing project was in the works.

The plans call for an 18,100-square-foot facility with 20-24 permanent supportive housing units, eight to 10 emergency shelter units, a resource center, and on-site staff and management.

Local organizations, including the Sisters of St. Francis, have been discussing homelessness in the community for several years, with the Sisters contacting Dale Todd of Hatch Development in Cedar Rapids as those discussions were underway.

Todd, who now is working alongside the YWCA Empowerment Center in developing the project, praised the leadership of the city, county and Sander-Welzien in moving the project forward.

"The Supervisors have done a stand-up job," Todd told the Herald. "When it comes to issues of homelessness, and crime and race and those kinds of issues, as council members, they can be awkward because there's no real good answers. Everybody's right to a degree and so there's no perfect playbook on how to do this stuff.

"We'll have the plan in place so there are no questions," he said. "This is a real doable project, especially with the city and county working together."