Sep 14, 2022 - Business

Business owners say Des Moines needs to get a handle on homelessness

Illustration of a homeless person sitting in front of a white picket fence

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Problems with people experiencing homelessness have spiraled out of control, officials from two downtown businesses warned the Des Moines City Council this week.

Driving the news: Some people who need assistance the most are not getting help.

  • That's leading to DSM becoming a less attractive place to live and do business in, the speakers said.

What they're saying: Camping along streets or sidewalks, panhandling and loitering are increasingly common, managers of Surety Hotel and Exile Brewing reported during an open forum at Monday's council meeting.

  • Customers feel unsafe and trash and human waste left at sites is a public health issue, they said.

What's happening: Some people experiencing homelessness are not fully using assistance programs because of rules that prohibit alcohol or illegal substances in shelters, councilperson Joe Gatto said.

  • Metro leaders have for years acknowledged the problem and are trying to open a sobering center to improve services for those with addictions.

Context: Convenience stores that sell alcohol near homeless service centers play a big role in the problem, Brandon Brown, president of the Downtown DSM Neighborhood Association, told Axios Tuesday.

  • And the stores frequently generate more police calls than is typical of other businesses, Sgt. Paul Parizek told Axios.
  • There have been at least 417 calls to the Downtown Pantry's address — which is adjacent to the Surety Hotel — since March of 2021, police data shows.
  • The QuikTrip at 14th and Ingersoll near Exile has had at least 614 calls in that time.

Of note: DSM has wrestled with problems at some of the downtown convenience store sites for years.

  • The city tried to revoke the Pantry's use permit in 2017 because "the conduct of the business has become a nuisance." The Pantry was successful in appealing the case, arguing it isn't to blame for the problems.

Zoom in: The hotel has called the police more than 140 times since it opened in November 2020, Allison Streu, Surety's general manager, told the city council.

  • Some businesses like Principal Financial Group refuse to lodge guests there until the area is cleaned up, she said.
  • Yes, but: Principal has not changed its policies and continues to book rooms at Surety Hotel, spokesperson Melissa Higgins told Axios after this story originally published on Wednesday.
  • Surety officials have not returned multiple calls seeking clarity about the statements company representatives made before the city council Monday.

Separately, at Exile, homeless people have been found camping on the property, owner Amy Tursi said.

The other side: More police enforcement won't resolve the problems, councilperson Indira Sheumaker warned.

  • Improving assistance programs and access to them is a better solution, she said.

What's next: The council directed city staff to follow up with the businesses and evaluate possible solutions.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Principal Financial Group on their relationship with Surety Hotel.


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