New FD shelter would serve women, kids

Lotus Community Project has its sights set on southeast FD business district

A shelter for homeless women and their children is being planned in Fort Dodge by a new organization.

Lotus Community Project announced some of its plans at its meeting Monday night at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

The board, made up of nine community members, did not reveal the exact location for the shelter, but said it will be located in the southeast part of Fort Dodge’s business district.

Ashley Vaala, of Fort Dodge, executive director, said the shelter will be open to any woman.

“It won’t be restricted to specific criteria,” she said. “Anyone who is homeless that is a woman.”

Vaala said the only restriction is women who are registered sex offenders, but that the organization would attempt to help those people in other ways.

Michael Pettengill, also of Fort Dodge and president of the board, said not everyone meets the criteria for some of the existing shelters in the area.

“There are two great shelters here in town that are specialized,” he said. “This is a catch-all for women who may not meet the criteria.”

Pettengill said the shelter will not accept men because the Beacon of Hope already serves that demographic.

“We don’t want to duplicate services,” he said.

The shelter will cover a six-county area: Webster, Hamilton, Humboldt, Wright, Calhoun and Pocahontas.

But before the shelter can open, additional funds are needed, Vaala said.

According to Pettengill, the Lotus board has identified a building it wants to buy, but still needs a 20 percent down payment.

The Lotus Community Project is in the process of obtaining its 501(c)3 designation. In the meantime, the organization is partnering with St. Olaf Lutheran Church.

St. Olaf Lutheran Church is accepting donations on behalf of the Lotus Community Project.

According to Pettengill, Vaala recognized the need for additional resources while working at UnityPoint Health — Berryhill Center.

“She noticed there were homeless individuals who were not getting their basic needs met,” he said.

In Webster County, it’s estimated that 317 people became homeless in 2016, according to Vaala.

Families with children make up 61 percent of all homeless households in Iowa, she said.

Anny Davidson, a board member, said a lot of people don’t understand homelessness.

“I don’t think people understand the nuances of being homeless,” Davidson said. “It could be the loss of a job or an illness. I don’t think the community at large understands that people aren’t homeless by choice, and we have to help people understand that.”

Jane E. Morgan, another board member, said she recently witnessed women who were struggling in Fort Dodge.

“About two months ago I saw two elderly women with all of their possessions in shopping carts outside of Kay Jewelers,” she said. “Clearly they needed assistance. Two elderly women, absolutely homeless. It would have been nice to take them to a shelter.”

Job training, learning to manage finances, and mental health care will be areas of focus for the shelter, according to Pettengill.

Christine Timmerman, vice president of the board, said the goal is to help homeless women re-enter society with the tools they need.

“Our plan is once they hit the door we are figuring out what they need to help them back into the community,” Timmerman said. “It’s not a stopping place. It’s more of a starting place.”

Pettengill is hopeful that the community will get involved.

“One of the visions I see is we want to make this a community shelter,” he said. “Something everyone can be involved in. Maybe a garden or job training. Maybe college students who would build or maintain certain projects.”

He added, “We want to team with other partners in town.”

A number of organizations including the YWCA, Webster County Social Services, Fort Dodge Housing Agency, the Beacon of Hope men’s shelter, Fort Dodge Study Club, and St. Olaf Lutheran Church have partnered with the Lotus Community Project.

For more information or to donate, find Lotus Community Project on Facebook or contact Ashley Vaala at (319) 429-4955 or by email avaala@lotuscommunityproject.org.

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