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Let's Catch Up - September 2022


Vision Zero is a national program with local impact and a universal aim: to eliminate deaths and serious injuries to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. More than 40 U.S. cities have embraced Vision Zero planning, and so has Des Moines. Our city’s overarching goal for Vision Zero is: “Des Moines' residents, regardless of how they get around, want transportation that is usable and safe for everyone.”

Four open houses are scheduled later this month as part of the City’s Vision Zero planning. Each is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Just stop by when it fits your schedule—and you don’t have to stay for the full three hours. Here are the dates and locations:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Pioneer Columbus Community Center, Irving E. Stone Park, 2100 Southeast Fifth Street

  • Wednesday, Sept. 21 at the East Side Library, 2559 Hubbell Avenue

  • Thursday, Sept. 22 at the South Side Library, 1111 Porter Avenue

  • Thursday, Sept 29 at the Franklin Library, 5000 Franklin Avenue


On the first day of school a few weeks ago, 12 Afghan youths walked into the Hoover High School principal’s office to enroll. They spoke a remote tribal language that didn’t register with any of the district’s translators. So began Qynne Kelly’s first full year as Hoover’s principal.

Qynne, a seven-year Des Moines Public Schools veteran, is proud to hold the reins of the most diverse high school in Iowa. “Diversity is our strength,” Qynne boasts.

If you had any doubt about diversity within Hoover, after noting the bold, colorful flags of 40 nations lining the hallways, consider that its 1,000 students speak 44 home and/or family languages or tribal dialects, including Burmese, Chin, Dinka, Karen, Karenni, Nuer, Swahili, and Vietnamese.

In recent weeks, Qynne has bounced around the Hoover attendance area, meeting residents from the six or so surrounding neighborhood associations, including her own Chautauqua Park Neighborhood. “I’m meeting people who haven’t been in schools since the 1970s or 1980s,” Qynne says.

That’s because, she notes, “A lot has changed at our schools. We are shifting the narrative to what a school is today.” Qynne strives for Hoover to become a resource for the entire community. The school’s new vision statement reads: “We are an inclusive school shaping a thriving northwest side.”

This is a far cry from your grandpa’s school. Consider the Huskie Zone in one room, where students can:

• grab grocery items at a Food Bank of Iowa pantry

• browse through a clothing closet (students and family attire)

• schedule an on-site Primary Health Care (PCH) medical appointment

• receive on-site dental care at the Smiles Squad on Wednesdays. Referrals for additional

dental care, up to a root canal, takes place at the Kurtz Building on SW Porter

• pick up personal hygiene items

Qynne stresses that these and other services remove barricades to learning. “Teaching and learning is a high expectation at Hoover,” Qynne says. “But we’re here to be partners.”

And to listen. At the Hoover Hub in another room, students can drop in “for whatever you need.” Suggestions welcome! One example: Raise the Bar, a women’s weightlifting program, emerged as a new Hoover club.

Qynne believes transportation remains one of the biggest hurdles for the Hoover students and families. This one is hard to fix. “Kids can ride the DART bus for 75 cents, but it’s free after 4:30—an hour after classes dismiss. It’s amazing how a 75-cent difference is important to some families.”


In 2001, granite plaques representing each of Iowa’s 99 counties were installed along Locust Street sidewalks in the East Village. Over the decades, some of those plaques broke, cracked or heaved. So the City’s Engineering Department staff are working on detailed plans to make sidewalk improvements in 2023.

But when inventorying the counties, staff discovered that three—Cedar, Greene, and Washington—had disappeared. Relax; there’s no hidden consolidation agenda at work. It’s just that those plaques become collateral damage to a flurry of East Village developments. Yes, the missing counties will be replaced as City staff reduce tripping hazards in this busy corridor leading to the Iowa State Capitol. Other scheduled improvements include removing fencing around tree boxes, often damaged by snow-removal equipment, and a streetscape lighting upgrade.


Could there have been a better message for the September 5 Labor Day Parade than the “Work Hard & Be Nice to People” message on Tony Garner’s T-shirt? Tony and his daughters Joplin, left, and Paisley were among hundreds lining East Grand Avenue to scoop up candy tossed by union members.

Greg Gregorio, a LiuNA Local #177 member, and his wife, Elizabeth, left, toss candy while riding on the back of a flatbed trailer.


The new Crisis Advocacy Response Effort (CARE) team has been busy responding to local mental health issues since responding to its first 911 calls on July 5. In August alone, the team logged 499 trips with a mental health component.

The team has had several success stories, including those described by Kari Osborn, one of two registered nurses on the team, which also consists of three crisis advocates with mental health experience.

“The CARE team and DMPD were dispatched to a call resulting from a domestic situation,” Kari told me. “One of the clients did not feel safe and was in an abusive situation. Phil Sullivan from our team transported the client to a safe shelter for the evening. Kaitlyn Humpal [also CARE team] and I initiated resources for the clients to help them move forward.

“The CARE team spent a good amount of time with the client, figuring out the logistics of their situation,” Kari reported. “That freed up officers, after they dealt with the domestic situation, to help the community in other ways.”

Kari also recalled when the team went out to a client who had called the police, stating they had no food in the house. After contacting Easter Seals and the Iowa Department of Human Services, Kaitlyn went to a food pantry to set up the client with food for a few days until other resources could kick in. “By the time Kirk Storm [also CARE team] and I left the residence, Easter Seals was already at the apartment, getting things set up for them,” Kari reports.

“From my own perspective, the CARE team is so versatile and takes the time needed for people struggling with mental health issues,” she continues. “Once we are out at a scene, we focus on that situation and help figure out a solution.”

The team is funded by Des Moines, Polk County, and Broadlawns Medical Center. Dawn Marie Hooker at Broadlawns is the CARE supervisor. Sgt. Lorna Garcia is the Mobile Crisis Response Team and CARE liaison, and leads the DMPD mental health response teams.

A call to the CARE Crisis Advocate, stationed with DMPD dispatchers, doesn’t have to involve police officers. This has saved a lot of time for officers and or Mobile Crisis team from responding when nothing has happened that merits an in-person response. “This way,” Sgt. Garcia says, “a caller can vent and be heard by the CARE member in dispatch when the need for anything more is not required.”

CARE does more than respond to calls with mental health aspects; for example, Sgt. Garcia reported that the team routinely handles calls for welfare checks (shorthand for checking on the well-being of a resident). “DMPD dispatch receives numerous requests for welfare checks every day,” she adds. “CARE has gone out on many of these welfare checks instead of dispatching two police officers, which is a better use of resources.”


Racheal Duang holds a housewarming basket given to her family as part of a Sept. 10 Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity home dedication. It was a big day for Rachel and her daughters Nyaguich, 6; Apiew, 12; and Mer, 14.

I first met Racheal Duang in February 2020 while I was part of a Central Presbyterian Church Habitat for Humanity volunteer crew. Racheal was painting in the same house, logging time for her 200 hours of Habitat sweat equity, part of Habitat’s homeowner's program.

Since then, I learned that Racheal, a native of South Sudan, works full-time as a paralegal for Iowa Movement for Justice. Racheal’s certification from the U.S. Department of Justice Recognition and Accreditation allows her to provide legal immigration services through a recognized nonprofit.

Racheal is a valued resource in our community, where she combines her legal training with fluency in English, Spanish, and Arabic. She also translates for four east African languages: Nuer, Dinka, Anyuak, and Shilluk.

By year’s end, Habitat expects to move 30 families into their first homes (new and renovated).

Alan Graham, right, founder and CEO, fields questions from Polk County supervisor Matt McCoy, Joppa board member Curt Carlson, Joppa founders Jacki and Joe Stevens, and City Council member Linda Westergaard.


A delegation from Des Moines spent a busy day in Austin, Texas, last week touring the Community First! Village in that state capital. Community First! provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women transitioning from chronic homelessness. Joppa organized the tour as a potential pilot project for a similar Des Moines area village.

The initiative started with one gently used RV in 2004, and the first permanent community housing opened in 2015. There are now 325 former homeless in the 51-acre community, which plans to grow to 500 homes. Across the road, the nonprofit organization has acquired an additional 127 acres for future expansion. A typical neighbor is 56 years old and was homeless for 8.9 years. In 2021, community members earned $1.2 million in dignified income, including auto care, gardening, culinary, jewelry workshop, artwork sales, and a community bed and breakfast.

Seventy-five percent of the village operates on philanthropic income; the remainder from rent. There are no city or county subsidies. A micro-home (200 square feet; no restroom) rents for around $275/month. Rent for a slightly larger home (fully plumbed) averages $375/month. The village has an 88% retention rate.


The Union Park Neighborhood Association went all-in for music Sunday afternoon with its first Porchfest, a walking music festival. Organizers booked 17 bands to play on 16 front porches surrounding Union Park. Bluesman Heath Alan charmed the crowd with covers and original tunes on a Cherokee Avenue porch. Yep, you missed something fabulous. Next year.


At the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus, residents are treated to two annual celebrations: birthdays and anniversaries as a resident.

Because this 11-year-old building at 2 Southwest Ninth Street is considered permanent supportive housing, residency anniversaries are a common event. Among the 140 units, some residents have lived in Y housing for 30 years, including years at the former Riverfront YMCA men’s housing.

But the average stay now is 18 to 24 months, according to Katie Kamienski, executive director of housing, who adds that the waiting list for single-occupancy rooms, which rent for $540 per month, has 120 names. “There aren’t many YMCAs that have a facility like this,” Katie says. “The rooms can be whatever people want it to be.”

Eight former residents are in a “graduate” program, where they try living in apartments scattered around the metro area. They can return to the Ninth Street program for wraparound services—everything from laundry to the food pantry to counseling—for up to three years.

Side note: Decades ago, when I was a summer photo intern at The Des Moines Register, I rented a room at the Riverfront YMCA Men’s Housing for my first two weeks in the capital city.


Developers of the Sixth Avenue Flats report that all 42 units were leased within 60 days of taking the first applications. The new development just north of University Avenue prioritizes young adults aging out of the state’s foster care program. DMACC provides scholarships for former foster care youths so they can continue their education at the nearby Urban Campus or Southridge Campus. Expect news soon from Youth and Shelter Services (YSS) regarding a financial partner for its first-floor offices.


Dorie Hammer, Allan Cookson, David Graves, and Nate Manning relax beneath a canopy of oak trees in Des Moines Water Works Park on another fabulous, casual fall evening. The pop-up German-style Biergarten is to operate through October on Thursdays through Sundays. The biergarten is just east of the Lauridsen Stage and a short walk from the Ruan Connector to Gray’s Lake Park.

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