The issue of homelessness is not seen in northern Iowa as much as it is in the larger cities to our south or in some cities in Minnesota. That does not mean it is not an issue. One of largest cities in Iowa will soon see another project that centers around the “housing first” philosophy in addressing chronic homelessness.
Next month, Shelter House in Iowa City will break ground on a 36-unit structure to provide long-term housing for those who have frequently moved in and out of shelters while dealing with mental health, behavioral or drug-dependency issues. The organization opened a 24-unit facility in 2019 called Cross Park Place.
Christine Ralston, director of development for Shelter House, said with the exception of one person being asked to leave, most other tenants are still there. They’re trying to improve their lives, while not having to worry about their living arrangements.
Ralston noted in one of their case studies, one tenant had health-care costs billed through the University of Iowa care system at more than $211,000 prior to moving in. It was reduced to just under $1,000 a year later.
Skeptics contended the approach boosts individuals but not broader homelessness issues around the country.
But Ralston argued their facilities are planned with round-the-clock trained staff who can deal with tenants in a crisis situation. She added immediate care in the person’s permanent home is much better than forcing them into various shelters or other facilities if they’re on the street.
She emphasized people approved for these units get care, along with the stable housing, in a consent-style fashion. Supporters of the approach believe it makes them less prone to encounters with authorities, reducing demand on that front.
In Iowa City, tenants are only asked to pay 30% of their monthly income for their rent. A
recent report from the Urban Institute said the broader effort has sharply reduced homelessness among military veterans.