Home / Out of the Cold

Out of the Cold

Out of the Cold, December 2019 – March 2020

Thanks to the generosity of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, a building which was previously used by the county will once again be used as the satellite site for the 2019-2020 winter shelter. Additional thanks to the City of Iowa City, City of Coralville, and Iowa City Police Department for their continued, altruistic support in our efforts as well as the greater Iowa City community for their financial contributions which support our extensive winter outreach.

In January 2019, the polar vortex that pierced Iowa led to severely cold, record-breaking temperatures that closed schools, shut down businesses, and halted transportation. But Shelter House remained open during the historic cold and steadfastly provided warm, safe shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness, no matter their circumstance so that they would be kept out of the cold.

Last winter, staff and volunteers worked long days and nights to ensure our winter shelter and overflow lobby were accessible throughout the day, in addition to our regular evening hours, during sub-zero temperatures. And in March, we quickly made accommodations to re-open our winter shelter when snowfall and colder temperatures returned unexpectedly. During that time, we provided shelter and support services to 443 individuals and families—including 141 who utilized the Winter Emergency Shelter.

For people experiencing homelessness, winter is a brutal challenge, and the colder it gets, the more dangerous it becomes as they face the risk of dehydration, frostbite, and hypothermia. As temperatures begin to plummet and with the early arrival of our first snow, the need is here for resources to support those with no place to call home.

“Couldn’t ever really get no sleep those nights, especially when it was so cold outside. It seemed like no matter how many socks you put on, your feet always kept on staying cold.”

“You can’t feel your hands and your feet are numb. You can’t sleep because you have to keep moving just to stay warm. You wonder if you’ll make it through the night.”

As we have done since January 2015, Shelter House is once again operating a satellite Winter Emergency Shelter intended for people for whom homelessness has become a chronic condition removing sobriety and other requirements often experienced as barriers. In addition, we increase our bed capacity at the Southgate building from 70 to 100 throughout the winter, so no one is turned away. This year, due to Iowa’s unpredictable weather and the amplified need for extended resources, these combined winter efforts will cost $986 per day to operate, which covers our well-trained staff, utilities, and necessary supplies for over 120 days.

We are only able to continue to provide this much-needed and extensive programming with the support, generosity, and compassion of our community. Our goal is to raise $100,000 for the Out of the Cold campaign, which allows us to cover the range of services that keep individuals and families out of the cold and helps them reconnect to the community. Thank you for your support and commitment during this challenging time of year!


Interested in volunteering at the winter shelter?

Complete the online Volunteer Application Form here and we’ll be in touch with you soon!

Read about our winter programs and hear from a guest of our low-barrier winter emergency shelter below. 

Nov 2018 | Press-Citizen | Iowa City Shelter House to increase capacity in extreme, cold weather

“Having a warm place to sleep is essential for everyone and the winter shelter addresses that need. Previous years have shown a 60-70% reduction in vagrancy calls during the times the low barrier shelter is operating. By reducing the amount of time individuals are exposed to the elements, the need for medical aid is also reduced.”
Jody Matherly, Chief of Police, ICPD


I stayed there (the Winter Shelter) every night last year—it makes a person feel better about themselves. It’s a place to get warm and get out of the cold. It makes your spirit better I guess, because in the winter it’s so cold, but when you go in there it kind of cheers you up a little bit.
Former winter emergency shelter guest
I’ve lived in a tent before and used a candle to heat my tent. I wake up and there’s frost on the side of the tent from the cold night. Then you’ve got to get out of your tent the next day and all you’ve got to do is walk … just to stay warm.
Former winter emergency shelter guest