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Business owners call on city to provide resources for unhoused residents

At the latest Des Moines City Council meeting, residents called on the city to address the lack of resources for unhoused people in Des Moines.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Local business owners expressed concerns about the presence of unhoused people affecting their business and safety at a city council meeting on Monday. 

The city council works in conjunction with the Homeless Coordinating Council (HCC), an informal board comprised of elected officials and nonprofit leaders from across the Des Moines metro. 

It meets quarterly to discuss issues and solutions for those experiencing homelessness in Des Moines. 

Several business owners spoke at the meeting in an effort to urge the city to take action against a perceived increase in unhoused residents near their businesses. 

"The homeless, vacant and youth loitering activity has significantly increased to a point, bringing us here today pleading for your assistance," said Tara McFarling, director of sales for Surety Hotel. 

McFarling and other local business owners located in the area of Sixth Avenue between Mulberry and Walnut Street raised concerns about reoccurring situations of loitering and trespassing - activities they believe are perpetrated by unhoused residents. 

"We've made 144 calls to the Des Moines Police Department," said Allison Streu, general manager at McFarling's. "We are splitting the cost per gate to keep people out of the city alley... on the north side of our property. We escort our team and guests their cars because they feel unsafe."

Josh Mandelbaum, who represents Ward 3 on the Des Moines City Council, is also a member of the HCC. Currently, he said the board is looking to partner with Drake University to research how to best serve Des Moines residents without a home. 

"We're looking at how we can better connect people to services, and that requires understanding the barriers to getting them served in the first place," Mandelbaum said.

Mandelbaum understands why businesses find discomfort in some of the actions they described, but believes it's important to recognize unhoused residents for who they are: people.

"We should treat folks with compassion and dignity as we work to figure out how we solve these issues, how we provide better service, how we reduce barriers to accessing service," Mandelbaum said. 

The HCC is also considering how the city can best support unhoused residents during extreme weather conditions. 

Mandelbaum said the council is looking into policies would best help those experiencing homelessness, and what barriers might exist for people accessing services in those conditions. 

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