SIOUX CITY | City and community leaders say alcohol abuse and inadequate space at overnight shelters are contributing to homelessness in Sioux City.

More than 50 people attended a round table discussion Tuesday at the Sioux City Convention Center to look for ways to reduce homelessness. Another forum is planned, but no date was set.

In Sioux City, an average of 101 people are arrested each month on public intoxication charges -- many of whom are homeless, said Police Capt. Lisa Claeys. The Woodbury County Sheriff's Office books about 151 people each month on the same charge.

Locally, downtown businesses are concerned the homeless have become a nuisance to commuters and tourists during early hours. A handful of them will panhandle for money, which is legal in Iowa, Claeys said.

In fact, panhandling complaints have been on the rise in downtown, according to Ragen Cote, executive director of Downtown Partners. Claeys said some panhandlers make an average of $100 per day in Sioux City.

Barb Wingert, with Sioux City-based Women Aware, a nonprofit group that promotes economic and emotional stability, said the city's homeless population is growing because people who move to Sioux City for work sometimes cannot find affordable housing.

"This is the worst I've seen the homeless situation here," Wingert said.

Law enforcement officials said the homeless stay at overnight shelters but then return to the streets the next morning. Sioux City Councilman Pete Groetken said the city does not have a 24/7 shelter.

Police Capt. Marti Reilly said the city's homeless population falls into two categories -- "those that want to get away from (homelessness), and those that want us to get away from them." He added that most of downtown homeless are composed of the latter.

Reilly also said arresting the homeless is not a solution to reducing the number of those who wander the streets early in the morning or late at night.

Claeys noted the number of Sioux City's public intoxication arrests included a disproportionate number of Native Americans compared to the city's Native population. The specific number was not available Tuesday.

Frank LaMere, a Native activist who attended Tuesday's meeting, criticized previous efforts to work together in addressing Sioux City's homelessness issues and added Tuesday's meeting was a step in the right direction.

"We do not connect as a community, and that's a challenge to everyone -- even me," he said.


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