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“I’m out of options”: a father’s desperate struggle to find a men’s shelter for his son

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - John Fenner is just about out of options.

He and his son, Mike, moved to Ottumwa six years ago.

Mike had a troubled past, but with a new goal to become a handyman and some tools his father bought him, things were looking up.

Until, Fenner says, Mike “decided all his tools were his; he was going to take them with him. Well, what he was doing was taking them and selling them for meth.”

Mike struggles with drug addiction and has been in and out of prisons and halfway homes for years.

Fenner wants to find somewhere for his son to go and break that cycle. He says Mike “has to have a residence. He has to go somewhere.”

His last resort is to have his son move in with him.

But that’s complicated, because he has a restraining order against his son after Mike attacked him. Fenner says he’s scared to let Mike back into the house.

Because Fenner is afraid Mike is running out of time:

“There comes a time in recovery where you either get recovery, you end up in jail, or you end up dead.”

Fenner wants somewhere for those suffering from drug abuse and needing help to go, to get back on their feet. He says they’ve got to break the cycle that Mike seems stuck in.

But he keeps hearing “no.”

Which led him to appeal to the Ottumwa City Council on April 6th. Fenner said he’s talked to the Iowa Governor, Senators, and Representatives. The City Council was his last option.

But Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio says setting up a men’s shelter falls out of city jurisdiction:

“I’m not sure that’s a city responsibility as much as it falls under human relations, and maybe be more appropriate for a non-profit.”

But local nonprofits like United Way and Sieda Community Action say they can’t do much either. A men’s shelter is resource intensive and not part of the organizations’ direct goals.

The only option for a men’s shelter in Ottumwa is the Oxford House, but with only six beds and a large waiting list, Lisa Pforr, who runs the house, says the demand outweighs the supply.

“It really pulls at your heartstrings sometimes, but there isn’t a lot that I can do about it.”

Fenner isn’t giving up hope. He’s making it his mission to find answers for his son.

“We can’t give up on these kids. We can’t give up. They’re gonna...they’re just…(choked up) It’s just going to get worse. And it’s gonna get worse. And it’s gonna get worse...My son’s worth saving. So are a lot of other people out here worth saving.”

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