Eastern Iowa officials have decided to spend more than $10,000 on new public benches that don't have center armrests, in an effort to allow homeless people to lie down across them.
The Iowa City Council will be replacing 14 of the 70 benches in a downtown pedestrian mall with seating that doesn't include center armrests, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported. Iowa City Catholic Worker House, a faith-based community dedicated to serving the poor, led the effort against the center armrests, which the shelter said prevents people from lying down across the benches.
"These were big victories. It's proof again that community organizing works," said David Goodner, an organizer with the Catholic Worker House. "When people stand up and speak out for what's right as a community organization with a strategy we can move the needle."
As for Nichole Novak, an organizer with Catholic Worker House, he added that the idea is to make "a public space that is welcoming to all."
Cady Gerlach, the director of strategic operations and resource management of Shelter House, said the money for the benches could have been better spent in other ways to help the homeless, but Novak dismissed the idea that focusing on the bench issue has taken away from efforts to address the larger problem of homelessness.
"I just don't buy for a second the argument that any attention to benches downtown distracts from the other great work being done to address homelessness in our community," Novak said.
The announcement that the benches will be replaced comes two weeks after protesters marched up Dubuque Street, placing signs on the city's recently installed benches calling their design "hostile" to Iowa City residents. After a rally, people took blankets and sleeping bags and reclined on the old benches near the Iowa City Public Library. Indeed, the arm rest in the middle of the benches was at the center of debate. The ICCWH asked for the uniform ban of these bars, calling them anti-homeless.
Mark Petterson, an organizer with the Iowa City Catholic Worker House said at the time that it is a moral issue and he called on the city to do the right thing. And that's exactly what East Iowa city will be doing!