Iowa’s homeless population grew by more than 38% last year according to an annual report produced by the Iowa Finance Authority. Around 23,000 Iowans were without a regular nighttime residence in 2009. Roughly 14,000 of those were part of homeless families.
Tim Wilson, Executive Director of the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter in Cedar Rapids, says there used to be slow periods throughout the year, but not anymore. “Unfortunately, we’re able to serve fewer than half the families that approach us for a place to stay,” Wilson said. “So, we turn away more people than we’re able to help, which is really heartbreaking. For men, the beds tend to turnover fast, so we’re able to serve 90 plus percent of (the men) who come to us.”
The Willis Dady shelter has four family units and 16 beds for single men. Wilson says some of those they serve are suffering from mental illness or addiction while others are simply looking for a safe place to stay. Emily Minear is director of the men’s residence program at the Riverfront YMCA of Greater Des Moines. She’s noticed a rising demand for services the last two years, as the tough economy hit many people who never expected to be homeless.
“We’re getting a lot of guys that come in and they say that, ‘I never expected to be here, I have a college degree, I owned my own home.’ Maybe they go to family or friends first, but that can only last so long, so they’re having to start fresh and transition again,” Minear said.
The YMCA of Greater Des Moines has 186 dormitory style rooms and Minear says approximately half of their residents hold down jobs. She says most men end up at the Y after a divorce, eviction or layoff. Often times, Minear says, medical bills or child support payments make it difficult to afford housing. Minear and Wilson made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program The Exchange.