Research indicates community-wide involvement and support is required for any significant improvement.
February 7, 2024 - DES MOINES, IA- Homeward has released study results and key recommendations for improving the Polk County homelessness response system, which was determined to be significantly undersized relative to what is needed to serve people experiencing homelessness. The recommendations in a report released today resulted from an in-depth needs assessment conducted by independent consultants that began last fall.
The report, Homelessness System Needs Assessment and Centralized Intake Evaluation, funded by Nationwide Foundation, focused on identifying improvements needed for Polk County to achieve an “optimal” homelessness response system. The report defines “optimal system” as “sufficient high-quality services, emergency shelter and the rehousing capacity to meet the number of households forecasted to enter the homelessness system.”
“Addressing homelessness in Polk County will take a collaborative approach and the Nationwide Foundation is committed to providing resources to increase system efficiencies,” said Chad Jester, President of the Nationwide Foundation. “The results gathered from this study will enable our providers to address service gaps and realign their resources to better support those experiencing homelessness.”
As Polk County’s lead homelessness planning organization, Homeward recognized the need for the research to be completed in order to identify focus areas for improvements. Homeward Executive Director Angie Arthur said that while an “optimal system” would be ideal, there are significant resource gaps in simply meeting the basic needs of individuals and families currently in crisis.
“The study found that the local homelessness service providers do not have the financial resources or capacity to address the homelessness crisis alone. It will take the intention and investment of our community businesses, county and city government, and philanthropy to help us develop the resources to increase affordable housing, particularly as we see increasing numbers of families experiencing homelessness in the metro,” said Arthur.
The research was conducted by Housing Innovations, a homelessness training and technical assistance firm that has performed similar analyses for cities around the country. The study analyzed existing data regarding Polk County’s homelessness system, including demand for crisis services and supply of emergency shelter, rehousing, and support services, to make sure the amount of crisis services and housing options necessary are available to meet future needs.
Through numerous meetings, stakeholder interviews, homelessness assistance project tours and community engagement sessions throughout November and December 2023, Housing Innovations identified three immediate next steps for improving Polk County’s homelessness response system:
1. Increase emergency family shelter space.
Polk County needs 29 more emergency shelter units just to meet the current need for family emergency shelter. Following the COVID pandemic, family emergency shelter needs have increased. At its height, 100 families were on the emergency shelter waitlist last summer, an unprecedented situation in the community. Many resources, including additional child tax credits, made available to families during the pandemic have now ended while rental rates are increasing and the region’s supply of affordable housing for low-income families is tight.
2. Expand the resources for Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) and Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for single adults.
The study states that the “…lack of housing opportunities increases unsheltered homelessness and contributes to larger homeless encampments visible throughout the Des Moines metro area.” With the metro population and workforce projected to grow substantially within the next decade, the need for additional affordable housing for extremely low-income people is critical.
3. Increase housing-focused case management for all people experiencing homelessness.
Housing-focused case management is important for helping identify resolutions for homelessness. Professional case managers are critical because they are able to work one-on-one with individuals and families to assess barriers to shelter and help facilitate connections to short- or long-term solutions. Some solutions include relocation, reunification with family or friends, shared housing resources and other low-cost and permanent housing options. The study provides directional guidelines on how to achieve the appropriate mix of services.
The study also offered specific recommendations for Centralized Intake at Primary Health Care, sometimes called the front door to the community’s services for people experiencing homelessness. Arthur said a variety of tweaks can help make this service even better at leveraging today’s available resources.
Successfully implementing the report’s recommendations will require collaboration from everyone in the community. “As the planning organization for the community’s homelessness response system, Homeward will be leading the collaborative conversations for determining the next steps based on these recommendations,” Arthur said. “The focus will be on system work and improvements. If we don’t have the support and resources from the community, we aren’t going to see change.”
To learn more about Homeward and to access the Homelessness System Needs Assessment and Centralized Intake Evaluation, visit homewardiowa.org.
Editors Note: A two page executive summary of the report’s key findings follows this release. The whole report may be downloaded here: www.homewardiowa.org/gapanalysis
Homeward serves as Polk County’s homelessness planning organization, forging strategic partnerships toward ending homelessness. By distributing funding, resources, and data, Homeward seeks to create an efficient, effective homeless response system that meets all residents’ strengths and needs. We lead community-wide homelessness planning efforts to ensure that one day, everyone in Polk County will have a safe place to call home.