Iowa City finds no takers on storage request for downtown regulars

No public space would suffice, city official says

Gregg Hennigan
Published: March 13 2014 | 4:10 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:34 am in

IOWA CITY Iowa City may scrap the search to find a place for people without adequate housing to store their belongings.

The issue came up last summer when the city, at the urging of the Iowa City Downtown District, got tougher on behaviors often associated with homeless people, although the regulations apply to everyone.

After passage of an ordinance restricting panhandling, where people can lounge and the storage of personal items in public space downtown, City Council members asked staff to explore ways to offer storage for people and families who lack sufficient permanent housing.

Last summer, full shopping carts, televisions and even small appliances were frequently seen on the Pedestrian Mall. Business owners said that and other behaviors were keeping customers from visiting downtown stores and restaurants.

City staff contacted 36 faith-based or nonprofit organizations in January about their interest in providing the service, with the city offering financial help, but no official responses were received, Assistant City Manager Geoff Fruin said.

He is recommending the City Council abandon the idea for now.

A representative of Trinity Episcopal Church contacted Fruin and expressed support for the idea, but a way for the church to host the service could not be worked out.

The main obstacles for any organization would be having enough space, costs like lockers and security features if necessary, maintenance and operational needs, Fruin said.

There is no public space that would suffice, he said. Putting large lockers in parking ramps has been considered, but Fruin said the facilities were not built for that use and the city does not have the staff to oversee the service.

Warmer weather means more people will be downtown. Fruin said the downtown beat police officer, David Schwindt, has maintained communication during the winter with downtown regulars and continued to educate them on the ordinance.

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