Waterloo opens first permanent overnight warming center as winter intensifies

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Grant Leo Winterer/IPR. The entrance to the overnight warming center. / Grant Leo Winterer/IPR. La entrada al centro de calentamiento nocturno.
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By Iowa Public Radio, Grant Leo Winterer

The shelter will provide access to area housing and counseling services.

As Waterloo faces potentially record-low temperatures and record-high snowfall, the city is opening its first permanent overnight warming center for residents in need.

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The center is in the heart of city’s West Side, nestled among Asian grocers, Baptist and Methodist churches and an elementary school.

“It’s a converted dentist office,” said Chris Schwartz, member of the advisory committee for the Cedar Valley Warming and Resource Center.

Grant Leo Winterer/IPR News. The Waterloo warming center’s permanent location: a converted dentist’s office.

Schwartz also serves on the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors. He added that the need for a permanent warming center is nothing new.

“There are existing shelters in the community, but they often operate at capacity, and oftentimes individuals facing issues with addiction or alcoholism aren’t eligible for them,” he said.

Schwartz says the permanent center will be different.

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“We’re a low barrier shelter. We won’t be turning anyone away,” he said.

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The Cedar Valley Warming and Resource Center itself has been operating temporary shelters in different locations each winter for the past several years, partnering with the city’s churches and schools since 2020. Those shelters became untenable due to a lack of fire safety equipment.

The permanent center has installed a sprinkler system, as well as ADA-compliant showers and a kitchenette. There’s a separate room for women and children. Lightweight cots allow center staff to quickly adjust the number of beds needed on a nightly basis. It will provide access to area services for housing, counseling and transportation.

Grant Leo Winterer/IPR News. One of the warming center’s rooms with modular cots. The new sprinkler system runs overhead.

It will be staffed in the early evening and morning hours by a six-person peer support team: individuals who have experienced similar situations to those using the shelter. Schwartz says the model is a key part of helping patrons build healing networks and communities of their own.

“We know that somebody’s lived experiences can go so far in connecting people and give them a sense of hope that we want to provide,” he said.

Schwartz anticipates that the center will provide its services to nearly 24 people per night, but that by no means is a concrete number.

“We’re avoiding the term ‘capacity,'” he said. “We’re open to anyone who needs the center.”

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