116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Aug. 10 2020 started out like any other day. By lunch time it became quite obvious that the “storm” we were experiencing was like nothing any Iowan had seen before. By the time I finally made it back to the clinic from lunch, there were still several patients standing, stranded in our parking lot. I knew I had to help these people, so I offered them a ride to their homes. Little did I know that there would be no home for one of them to go to.
When we pulled up to her apartment the horrible devastation from the storm became this patient’s reality. The entire top floor of her apartment building was gone. We sat there speechless not knowing what to do.
Before the storm, finding affordable, safe and clean housing was extremely difficult, especially for our most vulnerable and fragile population. Immediately after the storm, it became almost impossible to find housing for Eastern Iowa Health Center patients — 73 percent of them live at or below the federal poverty level of $26,500 for a family of four.
This is a struggle that has not been addressed and continues to be a problem. While housing options exist for some, but for low-income people, people on disability, people with past evictions or people with a criminal background, housing options are almost nonexistent, or deplorable. The apartments or homes that are available are simply too expensive or restrictive in their leases.
A common example of a patient I work with on a regular basis would be a person on disability or SSI making $794 a month, maybe with an eviction or criminal history. The average rent in Cedar Rapids is $550. Once you add utilities and other basic necessities, there is no money left over. It would be almost impossible for someone to sustain this for very long.
There is a misconception about the affordable housing options in Cedar Rapids. There are income-restricted properties that have strict minimum and maximum income restrictions, but the tenants pay full rent and these properties often come with strict restrictions for tenant selection, which disqualifies most patients we work with. There are only a handful of income-based apartments, where you only pay 30 percent of your income, and again these come with strict tenant criteria selection.
One year later, housing options have not improved. Finding affordable, adequate and safe housing has become even more difficult in our community — especially for those in this most vulnerable population. Some of the lower income choices people had are still not fixed. With shelters closing and more people on the streets, what is evident is that more affordable housing is an absolute necessity. We can no longer turn a blind eye to these very visible people experiencing homelessness.
The mission of Eastern Iowa Health Center is to provide exceptional and accessible patient-centered health care for all. In 2020, we served more than 11,810 unique patients, including 2,523 homeless patients. Donations we receive support our efforts to provide care and resources to our homeless patients.
Sarah Regan is a homeless outreach social worker at Eastern Iowa Health Center.