Homelessness In Polk County

Information & Statistics


What does homelessness look like in Polk County?


People experience homelessness in Polk County due to systemic or societal barriers such as:

  •  A lack of affordable and appropriate housing

  •  Financial, mental, cognitive, behavioral or physical challenges

  •  Racism and discrimination

  •  Family conflict or domestic violence  

A diverse group of individuals and families experience homelessness in our community. Populations represented in the homeless response system include families, young adults, veterans, those with a disability, and those who are pregnant or parenting. While most homelessness services are centered around urban or suburban areas, homelessness also exists in more rural areas of our county. 


Though homelessness is on the rise nationwide, in Polk County, the number of people experiencing homelessness on a given night has steadily decreased from 764 in 2018 to 576 in 2021. 

Of the people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Polk County on a given night, 83% are from the Des Moines metro area. 10% are from elsewhere in Iowa and 7% are originally from other states.


In 2020, the age breakdown of people experiencing  homelessness in our community was as follows: 

0-17    33%
18-24    6%
25-61    57%
62+    4%


63%  of people experiencing homelessness in 2020 had at least one disability

The number of veterans experiencing homelessness on a given night in Polk County has decreased from 92 in 2018 to only 38 in 2021.


The number of young people under 24 experiencing homelessness on a given night in 2021 was 37, down from 84 youth in 2018 

These numbers come from Point-in-Time Counts, which are conducted in communities across the nation on a single night in January every  year. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to submit this data to qualify for federal homeless assistance funds. While it is only a snapshot of a single night, Point-in-Time Count data helps Homeward plan services and identify gaps and needs in the community. 


Polk County Data Dashboard


Racial Equity


Racial Equity at Homeward

We must dismantle institutional racism to end homelessness in Polk County. That’s why Homeward is committed to systemic, intersectional change to end racial disparities in the homeless sector and beyond. Read more about racial inequity in homelessness below, and seek out our Racial Equity Committee for more information or to take action! 


Homelessness And Racial Disparities


Black or African American individuals represent 7% of the county's makeup, but 38% of young people in the homeless response system in 2018-2019.



Nationally, Black or African American youth had an 83% greater risk of experiencing homelessness than white peers. (Chapin Hall) 


In Polk County Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing, 61% of families with head of households under 25 are Black or African American. Meanwhile, only 29% of singles under 25 are Black or African American.


The unemployment rate for African Americans in Polk County is 10.5% (One Economy 2020 Report), roughly 8% higher than the county's overall unemployment rate.


Racial disparity is not only shown in the data, but in the way people in Polk County experience the homeless response system. Black individuals report discrimination in housing services and programs, both explicitly stated or through implicit bias in community systems. It’s clear that people of color, and Black folks in particular, experience homelessness in Polk County differently than white individuals and perhaps often lack equitable access to services and supports.


The Iowa Civil Rights Commission produced fair housing education and outreach materials in 10 languages predominantly spoken and read by refugees in Iowa. Housing discrimination is prohibited on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. These flyers and videos produced in partnership with EMBARC and Genesis Youth Foundation help residents recognize racial discrimination in housing— and take action.