Government

Advocate: Homelessness in Cedar Rapids increasing

Sam Pritchard, regional director in Sen. Joni Ernst’s Cedar Rapids office, kneels beneath a bridge near the interstate where he and HACAP community outreach coordinator Dusty Noble stopped, but only found blankets, during a point-in-time survey of homeless people in the Cedar Rapids area on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Due to cold weather the overflow shelter was open, and no one was found during the survey. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Sam Pritchard, regional director in Sen. Joni Ernst’s Cedar Rapids office, kneels beneath a bridge near the interstate where he and HACAP community outreach coordinator Dusty Noble stopped, but only found blankets, during a point-in-time survey of homeless people in the Cedar Rapids area on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Due to cold weather the overflow shelter was open, and no one was found during the survey. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The number of those living without a home — on the streets or otherwise — is as high or higher than it has been in years despite federal data suggesting homelessness in Cedar Rapids has been on the decline, according to an advocate for homeless services.

Point-in-time counts, a snapshot in which volunteers tally the number of people they find living on the streets on given days in January or February and July, support federal data showing the number in Cedar Rapids has declined from 446 in July 2015 to 260 in July 2019.

“It shows what one night in Cedar Rapids might look like, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the full breadth of the picture,” said Ashley Bailus, director of outreach and assistance for Linn County Community Services. “When we look at the total number of people accessing homeless services, the numbers are increasing.”

As winter approaches, providers and advocates are raising awareness about the extent of homelessness in Linn County, the available resources and the importance of housing as the first step in stabilizing lives.

The Linn County Continuum of Care on Monday sponsored a Linn County Awareness Series focused on homelessness during a lunch-and-learn event at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE. The series continues from 5 to 8 p.m. next Monday with a viewing in the Whipple Auditorium of “Public,” a movie about people, issues and misperceptions about homelessness.

“Housing is foundational in winning as individuals and as a community,” said Susie Weinacht, a Cedar Rapids City Council member and board chairwoman of the Housing Fund for Linn County, which helped put on the event.

“It’s imperative that we all work together to provide stable housing for individuals, families and our kiddos. Working together provides for fewer emergency touches that tap community resources — for example, medical and law enforcement.”

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Bailus said the federal homelessness count misses those who would be homeless if not for rapid-rehousing programs, or are staying in hotels or living with friends or family in situations that may be less than ideal.

When counting “unduplicated homeless individuals who accessed housing services,” the number increased from 1,664 in 2013 to 1,918 in 2015 and to 1,991 in 2018, according to her data.

The homeless population as counted by the Cedar Rapids Community School District has increased from 474 in 2011-12, to 360 in 2013-14 and to 641 in 2017-18, according to Bailus’ figures. The school counts people who are doubled up in housing — which is by far the largest portion — people staying in hotels, those in shelters and those unsheltered.

During the presentation, advocates pointed to utility bills as an increasing factor in people losing their homes. One issue is that most affordable homes and rentals are in poor condition, such as being badly insulated, which drives up bills. Advocates called for utility companies to have a bigger role in the conversation of homelessness.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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