OTTUMWA — As people live without shelter, they become desperate finding a place to sleep. The situation impacts more than just the community’s homeless.
“There is nowhere to put people who are homeless,” said Mary Margaret Butler. “Nowhere.”
Ottumwa’s homeless shelter closed after financial difficulties over a year ago. Butler said nearby shelters in Burlington and Des Moines have been completely full. Church groups and other advocates say they can’t afford hotels for 20 people a night.
“There were a lot of people over at Ottumwa Park who were camping but [otherwise] homeless last year,” Butler said. “We decided to help them.”
Butler is the founder and an administrator for an Ottumwa Facebook group called, “Whatsoever You Do,” a group that is not owned by any church but which works to put the teachings of Jesus into real-world practice. The group kicked into high gear during the deadly cold this past winter. An Ottumwa homeless man told the Courier when it was really cold, he felt lucky to be allowed to sleep in his old neighbor’s doghouse.
Considering the options, sleeping in a tent may be a valid choice, Butler said. At least it keeps out some rain, wind and bugs.
“It was hot last year, and we’d give them water,” Butler said, adding they also gave out soap and food.
Not everyone sees such short-term assistance as a good thing. She heard one official say the homeless people there were a bunch of troublemakers.
“That’s not the case. I went out there every single night. There was a family of five out there, they lost their home,” she said. “They had a larger tent, and [planted] flowers in front. However, yes, there was also a man who would bring alcohol ... and [would] create trouble.”