Since the City Council recently took up consideration of an ordinance regarding what the press has called “growing complaints about inappropriate behavior downtown” by people who are very broadly referred-to as “homeless,” a number of people have been asking my opinion on the matter. This is likely because of my dual role as a downtown business owner and executive chef at Iowa City’s only homeless shelter.
At Shelter House, my task has been to build what I call a “micro-apprenticeship” program. Since part of our mission is to feed the clients that Shelter House serves, we have the opportunity to use those meals as teachable moments, and give a few of the clients the opportunity to learn the rudimentary skills necessary to gain entry-level employment in the foodservice industry.
Because of this work, I’ve come to know well several of the people who are “in the trenches” in the fight to end homelessness, as well as quite a few homeless men, women, and children. I’ve come to learn many of the facts behind homelessness in Iowa City and beyond. I’ve come to understand a few of the factors that drive it, and a few of the factors that can help to end it.
There are many misinformed people who believe that the ten or twenty “homeless” citizens that frequently loiter on the Ped Mall are just lazy bums. It’s an easy conclusion to come to if you are the tireless self-employed shopkeeper working 90 hours a week to keep your business afloat in tenuous times while a vagrant snoozes on a bench outside your window. But when you look past the symptoms and focus on causes, the solutions become more complicated than passing rules that ban sleeping in flower beds or pushing shopping carts past the splash pad. Those are mere Band-Aid solutions, and treating a symptom that way may hide it, but it won’t cure it. [Read more →]