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Meet Jason

Jason was born in Omaha, Nebraska. Adopted into a preacher’s family, he moved from church to church across the country growing up. Jason decided to stay in California as his family traveled on, and this being where he met his wife. They then moved to Mississippi and in 2015, Jason lost his wife. Coping with her passing and his depression, Jason started to drink heavily. He was then diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib).

Jason found himself homeless, no job, and decided to move in with some ‘friends’ in Oregon during the beginning of the pandemic. Shortly after, he was kicked out and lost what money he did have. Jason came to Des Moines in July after learning his father had COVID-19 and has been here at CISS since. He moved into the apartments in November and enjoys being so close to his job.

Jason works in the kitchen as the lead overnight cook and has recently been ServSafe certified. His favorite meal to cook is meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans. He had a heart attack in early February and appreciates the shelter accommodating him as he returns to the kitchen and helping cater out meals to affiliated organizations.

He is grateful for the services provided at CISS, especially those with housing setup, helping clients get their identification cards and paperwork, and the job training program.

When it seemed as if everything in life was going against him, Jason has stayed positive the whole time… “Life’s going to throw you whatever, but it’s how you deal with it.”

-The Other Side

Meet Christina

Christina came to the Shelter with her son Christopher and now ex-boyfriend. They came from South Carolina with the promise that he would find a job and a place for themselves. As soon as they got to CISS, he began to see other people and would take their belongings and give them to the people he was seeing. After multiple instances where he would manipulate them, Christina decided that she had enough. She tried to reach out to her parents, but they did not receive any support. In her words, “I didn’t let that stop me.” She continued to fight for a way out of the shelter and getting herself and her son out of the Shelter, back to the life they had. After staying at CISS for over 2 weeks, she’s worked with case managers to apply for food stamps and get started on finding housing. Now, she has secured a job and will be moving into new independent housing with Christopher. Her son is also autistic, so Christina is hopeful that she will find him the support he needs and new medication. Her end goal is to get a place they can call home together after having been through so much.

-The Other Side


People are always coming and going through our front doors at CISS. Young, old, sick, healthy…there is not one appearance that defines homelessness. At first glance, this resident caught my eye and she truly reinforced this fact.

"I’m 18 years old and I’m from San Diego, California. My mom passed away when we were living in San Diego and then my dad and I moved to Des Moines because he met someone in the area. This year I’m a senior in high school and finished all my required courses. I’ve worked many different places like Gusto Pizza, Jimmy’s Egg and Hy-Vee while I was in high school. I just got to the shelter yesterday after a falling out with my parents and they kicked me out. We argue and yesterday was the last time. Since being here, everyone’s been really nice...both the staff and some of the residents. What’s next for me? I’m trying to find a job right now and hopefully after my stay here I can get my own place. I want to go to DMAAC to take my gen-eds and then go on to Iowa State to get a degree in Accounting.

If I could go anywhere in the world, it would be either the Lutheran Church of Hope or my old family home back in California. I’ve been attending Lutheran Church of Hope for 8 years now and I was a part of their youth group, attend weekend services and I sang on the worship team. I love to sing, it’s my favorite thing to do. To me, success is having the basic needs you need to have, to accomplish your big picture goals."

-Anonymous, The Other Side

Meet James

James is from Cedar Rapids, IA. There is where he met his best friend, Danny. The two of them were inseparable and no matter where they were, they always managed to stay in touch. Whenever they hung out, it was like picking up where they left off. A few years ago, when James was living in Florida, he got a call from Danny that he was dying of cancer. James dropped everything, leaving his housing and job behind to book a one-way ticket back to Iowa to see him. Only two days after he came to Iowa, Danny passed away. James said he didn’t regret a thing, being able to see Danny smile one last time was worth it. Afterwards, James began living with Danny’s brother. After an altercation involving his brother’s drinking, James had a couple broken ribs and a hurt back. Since then, James hasn’t been able to work and had no where to go after he left. His family still lives in Cedar Rapids, but to not be a burden, he was determined to do whatever he could to get his life back together on his own. James came to CISS knowing he had a lot of work to do in facing his substance addictions, gathering the right documentation and working out problems from the past. After a few months of being able to persevere through rejections, therapy/counseling and setbacks, James finally got the call Thursday morning that he was approved for housing.

In his free time, James loves to read his Bible and calls himself a “food nut”, always wanting to try new restaurants. He also likes to go to the movies and watch plays when he’s able.

-The Other Side


I always lived in Iowa. I spent much of my childhood moving around with my mom, 2 sisters and 6 brothers. We mostly lived around the Des Moines area, so I’m familiar with everything around here. I went to school through 9th grade and was a part of the LD (learning disability) program. My neighbor would help me with my schoolwork and realized I was more cut out for work than school. I started helping with flooring, but after 5 surgeries for hernias, I decided to try DMACC for truck driving. I got my license and loved driving semis. I love the feeling of being able to park, maneuver and drive something that big, knowing that my job was important, and people were counting on me. For the past 30 years, I struggled with my meth addiction, so that battle put me out of work. After seeing an acquaintance of mine almost overdose and die from heroine, I knew it was time for me to work on stopping. Back in June, I got hit by a car and it left me with injuries that took me up until December to recover from. I lost my housing and my work. As soon as I was ready to get back to work, I fell off my bike on 2AM Christmas morning, breaking my hip. I spent a couple weeks in the hospital and came to CISS after getting out recently because I have nowhere else to go. Now, I’m working with case workers to find me housing and I’m meeting with Hannah to review my resume and get me back into the workforce. I also used the clothing closet to find some new clothes…you don’t know how amazing it feels to finally have clean clothes. In my free time I love riding bikes and watching movies that make me feel something.

-The Other Side

Meet Blair

Blair Engler came to CISS from Waterloo, where he was staying with a friend. Unfortunately, the living situation began to decline, and Blair found himself having to make difficult decisions. He came to Des Moines about 4 months ago where he found CISS and began living here with one goal in mind, to get back on track. He started out volunteering around the shelter with different tasks, eventually applying and securing a position in our janitorial job training program. In the past, Blair was the first person in his family to graduate from high school and worked in a creamery. For a year, he drove trucks with his dad who did the same with his other siblings, to get more work experience. Having worked in janitorial with CISS for a while now, Blair is Karen’s “right hand man” when it comes to the janitorial staff. He helps to train new janitorial employees and fills her position for days she might be gone. Recently, Blair put in his two weeks’ notice…as he interviewed and got a job outside of the Shelter. He also secured his own place and is excited to start his new position and live in his. In his free time, Blair likes to camp, hike, fish and play games on his phone. And if he could go anywhere in the world, it would be to Hawaii or Jamaica to be somewhere warm.

When asked what success means to him, Blair answered, “Success means to be on my own and be self-sufficient. If I knew then what I know now things would have been better, and now I’m working hard to get the things I once had, back”

-The Other Side

Meet Sherry

Sherry Bryson, 53, is one of our janitorial staff under Karen and first came to the shelter in October. Sherry is from Tennessee and worked many roles before coming to CISS in cooking, cashiering, housekeeping, roofing and in construction. As a woman of many skills, Sherry enjoyed working all of these different types of jobs. Not too long ago, Sherry was living in Florida when she found herself in a domestic violence situation. With no where to go, she fled to Des Moines, IA in search of help and safety. After checking in at the shelter, Sherry began working through our job training program and a month ago, was able to find her own place and start her life new again. The most challenging thing for Sherry when she came to CISS, was getting used to being around many different people, especially men after her past abuse. However, with the support of others around her, she is able to overcome that challenge. In her free time, Sherry loves fishing and being outside. If she could go anywhere in the world, she would go to Hawaii to enjoy the sun and outdoors.

On a closing note, Sherry wanted to share something important to all women who experienced or are experiencing a domestic violence situation.

"For all women, there's a way to get out of domestic violence. It is possible and if I did it, you can do it too"

-The Other Side

Meet Sandra

Meet Sandra. Sandra has been at CISS for a couple of days now and is currently using the shelter as a roof over her head as she is in the process of being approved for disability-specific housing. She grew up in Maryland where she was a part of the special education program up through 12th grade, graduating high school. Throughout her life, Sandra has worked many jobs in the customer service industry and found a fondness for working with food. She moved to the Des Moines area to be closer to family members and eventually met her current boyfriend in Ankeny. In the spring, Sandra stayed at CISS when lockdowns were in full swing. When it began to clear up, she moved in with a friend. All was well until recently, when the same friend attacked her and needed shelter as soon as possible to get away from that environment.

Now, Sandra is staying CISS to wait for her housing to be approved. She enjoys texting and spending time with her boyfriend and daughter, as well as is a lover of horror movies and stuffed animals (pictured with her is puppy, Buddy). If she could go anywhere in the world, she would go to Florida for some sunshine and warmth.

-The Other Side

Meet Judy

Meet Judy Parker. Judy is from Louisiana but most recently lived in Las Vegas. She worked as a nursing assistant for 30 years and found a passion for taking care of people. Judy also was the primary caretaker for the rest of her father's life when he had dementia. After helping so many people for so many years, Judy realized that it was time to start taking care of herself more. She moved out to Des Moines when her friends’ daughter opened a party planning business and needed help getting started. After moving in, Judy found a job working at Git n’ Go and quickly became popular among the customers, knowing almost everyone by name and forming relationships with them.

Last month, her apartment caught on fire and her friend left for Chicago, leaving Judy with no place to go. Determined, she began applying for new housing and living at a hotel, but prices began to increase as more people kept staying at the hotel. Unable to afford it, she turned to CISS after her manager suggested it as a place to stay in the meantime. When she arrived at the Shelter, Judy already had housing lined up and was now focused on saving money before her move in date. She still works at Git n’ Go but has also picked up two other jobs working in the CISS kitchen and being an at-home healthcare worker. Excited and proud of herself, Judy will be moving into her own apartment next month and already has new plans for her future. Her next goal is to save up money for a vehicle and hopefully one day, open her own business.

“Treat people the way you want to be treated; it doesn’t hurt to be nice to them”

-The Other Side

Meet Theodore

Theodore Stewart has been living at CISS for 2-3 months now in our veteran apartments and just spent his 82nd birthday with us yesterday. When he graduated high school, Theodore enlisted in the Navy and served for 3 years and 9 months. After he completed his service, he found a love for truck driving and called it his "favorite cup of tea", being able to travel and earn money at the same time. Theodore was a truck driver for 42 years before retiring. In 2017, he moved away from his home town of Houston, Texas to be with his daughter in Des Moines. Things began to fall through and bills weren't being paid. Ultimately, Theodore made the decision to come to CISS to keep from being outside in the cold and living on the streets.

Now, Theodore enjoys living at CISS and working with his case manger to get him the resources he needs. Theodore enjoys being involved with church and he likes to talk to our younger clients to help them get back on their feet and be a support to them.

-The Other Side

Meet Karen

Karen is from Nebraska and has been living at CISS in her own apartment for 8 months now. After being kicked out by her family in her late 20's due to problems at home, Karen held different jobs waitressing and working at nursing homes to make enough money to live on her own. Being disabled, it was hard for Karen to maintain a steady job. As years passed, Karen eventually lost her own place and came to CISS for assistance. She worked closely with a case worker and managed to get a unit in our 2nd floor apartments.

Now, she lives at the shelter with her adorable service animal, Lil' Bit, who gives her the comfort she needs. In her free time, Karen likes to go on walks, color and play with her cat.

When asked what 'does success mean to you', she responded: "Success is being able to do things on your own and accomplish YOUR goals".

-The Other Side


“I enlisted in the Army in 1981, working in avionics and navigation on aircrafts. I traveled around the U.S wherever I was deployed and found it rewarding to visit so many places. After retiring in 1986, I worked at Pella community hospital and from there moved on to begin working with HVAC systems in houses. One day in 1995, I fell three stories while working on a house and shattered my right leg. I was out of work for two years while recovering from my injury along with dealing with my disability. In 1998, my 14-year-old daughter died in a car accident. It was not until 2 years ago that I hit rock bottom with my leg injury, disability and grief that I was out of work and unable to hold a job. Since then, I’ve connected with CISS to work on bettering myself and finding solace. Living in the veteran apartments, I work closely with my designated case worker and they are helping me to develop a plan to get me back on track.”

-The Other Side

Meet Curtis

Meet our board member, Curtis Covington. As a board member of CISS, no one would guess that he was at one point, a homeless veteran.
Curtis enlisted in the Army in 2005 and was then deployed to Iraq. He worked in the infantry while working on counter-terrorism. While deployed, he enjoyed bringing relief to the communities he visited. After he retired, Curtis worked different jobs and lived in different places. 
It wasn't until after those 6 years, that Curtis began to struggle with substance abuse to aid his then undiagnosed PTSD and was eventually charged with a drug felony. 
To turn his life around, Curtis joined the VA program and went through their treatment plan twice. He was given a room to stay in through a program called 180Degrees and enrolled in classes through DMACC.

Now, Curtis lives with his wife in their own apartment and is on his way to starting a Masters degree at the University of Iowa become a therapist after finishing his Bachelors in Social Work at Grand View University. Through his own experiences and as a board member, Curtis is a strong advocate for homeless veterans. 
"I want to be the voice for homeless veterans" 

Our Impact This Year

  • Number of People Served This Year


  • Lbs harvested from Mulberry Farms & Food This Year


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    Polk County
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