Information and 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.
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.
Unsheltered Des Moines Study
Conducted in partnership with Drake University and a research team lead by Professors Elizabeth Talbert and Mathew Record
The Unsheltered Des Moines Study was commissioned to better understand the experiences of people living unsheltered (on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation) in Polk County. The study examines why individuals face barriers to shelter and permanent housing in Greater Des Moines and provides a platform for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to tell the community how best to help them. Drawing from first-hand accounts and extensive research, the study presents recommendations to improve homeless services, create system-wide, change, and ultimately reduce the number of our neighbors living outdoors.
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.
Polk County Data Dashboard
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 in Polk County