A promise for homeless families

The Gazette Editorial Board

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One might expect homelessness is not much of a problem in Iowa, a place of relative bounty, low unemployment and helpful neighbors. Yet in 2009, nearly 24,000 people in our state were classified as homeless — 38 percent more than during the previous year.

Closer to home, Linn County programs served 5,520 homeless during fiscal 2010 — up 24 percent from the previous year.

And the face of homelessness more often involves families. Linn County’s count included 2,821 children, about 700 in Cedar Rapids.

The fallout from Iowa’s record natural disasters of 2008, followed by the economic recession, get some of the blame for the increases. But the number of Iowans in poverty has been increasing for the past decade, and the homeless problem isn’t about to go away soon. Federal funding for homeless shelters is expected to drop sharply next year.

In Cedar Rapids, four shelters that serve adults and families are almost always full. “Most of the growth has been in homeless families. We can serve only about half of the families that come to us,” Tim Wilson, director at the Willis Dady Emergency Shelter, told us.

He welcomes a new organization that aims to fill the gaps in helping those families. And so do we.

Family Promise of Linn County is a non-profit, interfaith network that hopes to launch its services in November. It will provide temporary housing and food assistance, hospitality and case management for homeless families with children. Existing resources will be used so that the program has no major startup or construction costs and can take effect quickly. Volunteers and faith congregations are at its heart.

Most families should be ready to move on within 30 days but can apply for an extension if necessary.

Nationwide, Family Promise affiliates claim 80 percent success in helping families find housing. In Iowa, Des Moines has had a program since 2004.

So far, nine congregations are committed to the Linn County program. The goal is 13. All faiths are invited to participate.

“It’s a great way for people to live out their faith,” Stefanie Robinson, the group’s president, told us.

We see promise in this initiative — and an opportunity for local people to help their neighbors.

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