116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The state of Iowa is planning to use $21.6 million in federal emergency rental assistance money for a pilot project to expand assistance for individuals experiencing homelessness.
The Rapid Rehousing Project, run by the Iowa Finance Authority, will use the money to expand services offered by existing agencies, as well as work to reach individuals who might not have been eligible previously for assistance.
With this being a pilot program, it can be difficult to predict how many will be helped, said the authority’s housing programs manager Terri Rosonke. But she estimated at least 700 homeless families can be helped through rapid rehousing, as well as helping thousands of Iowans get access to services and exit homelessness.
Rapid rehousing works to help individuals and families quickly exit homelessness and return to permanent housing. It is offered without preconditions — such as employment, income or sobriety — and resources are tailored to the needs of the individual.
Rapid rehousing has three main components: identifying housing, rent and move-in assistance and case management. It is part of the “housing first” approach to addressing needs of homeless individuals, said Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House in Iowa City.
Canganelli has been involved in the pilot project through her role on the Iowa Council on Homelessness. Canganelli is a founding member and chair of the policy and planning committee.
“All about reducing barriers and the understanding that for stability, for health, for other things to be able to happen, an individual has to first have entry into their own home,” Canganelli said.
Iowa Finance Authority has received a total of $344 million in federal emergency rental assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act. Iowa received $195 million as part of the first round of emergency rental assistance and another $149 million in the second round. Funds need to be disbursed by Sept. 30, 2025.
The goals for the pilot project are twofold, Rosonke told The Gazette. First is expanding and building capacity to enhance the coordinated entry system — the first point of contact for people in need of shelter — which has been strained during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
“As we started talking about a rapid rehousing pilot initiative, it became pretty clear early on that some enhancements to coordinated entry would be needed to be able to serve the new inflow of Iowans in need of assistance,” Rosonke said.
The second goal, Rosonke said, is to provide additional flexibility in meeting the needs of those experiencing homelessness while increasing provider capacity to respond. She said this pilot project will be another tool for organizations with rapid rehousing programs.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring,” Rosonke said.
One of the ways this program will provide additional flexibility is expanding the definition of who is experiencing homelessness by including individuals who are “doubling up” or “couch surfing,” Rosonke said. She added that is often how individuals might experience homelessness, especially in rural areas.
Christine Ralston, director of development at Shelter House, said doubling up and couch surfing for a place to stay can be an “incredibly tenuous situation, and it can end on a dime.”
“One argument, one frustration, can turn a person who is experiencing homelessness in the more general sense to someone who was experiencing literal homelessness, and tonight, they will not have a roof over their heads,” Ralston said.
Shelter House rehoused 403 individuals in 2020 through its rapid rehousing program, according to the group’s annual report. Between 2018 and 2020, 95 percent of individuals that were part of rapid rehousing did not return to homelessness in the two-year study period.
In 2021, 411 individuals were served through Shelter House’s rapid rehousing program, Ralston said. The entire state served 3,906 individuals through rapid rehousing, she added.
All three individuals The Gazette spoke with mentioned how the pilot program would reach a broader group of individuals with the expanded definition.
“We're really excited about the opportunity to hopefully be able to reach Iowans experiencing homelessness under that expanded definition who have not been able to be served under traditional rapid rehousing programs,” Rosonke said.
The Des Moines Register reported the state will spend $1.6 million of the funds to hire seven caseworkers part of the coordinated entry network.
Ralston said the support of a case manager is “a crucial part of the work.” Shelter House’s rapid rehousing team works with landlords, helps with the move and provides rent and utility assistance.
Iowa Finance Authority will be accepting applications from organizations with rapid rehousing programs who want to be part of the pilot program. Rosonke said the funding will be divided to “ensure statewide coverage and that all regions will be served.”
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