CEDAR RAPIDS — An annual count of the homeless population in Cedar Rapids found 397 men, women and children in emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities or living on the street, according to a report released this week by the Linn County Continuum of Care.
The Point-in-Time count, conducted overnight on Jan. 25-26, showed 111 people living in shelters, 284 living in transitional housing and two living on the streets.
The total is down from 400 people identified in January 2016, 461 people in 2015 and 448 people in 2014.
The Point-in-Time count is an effort from local service providers in the Linn County Continuum of Care, a group comprised of health, shelter and prevention service providers meant to help low-income individuals. The counts happen each January and July.
The number of homeless people in January was up from the 388 found in July 2016.
J’nae Peterman, director of homeless and housing services at Waypoint — a Cedar Rapids-based organization that serves the homeless, those living in poverty and victims of domestic violence — said that could be because more organizations are becoming involved in the Point-in-Time count.
“We think that is getting a little more accurate,” she said.
Peterman said the organizations involved in the count were pleased to see that only two individuals were living on the streets.
“There were options (for emergency shelter on the night of the count), but we know that sometimes people don’t choose those options.”
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Peterman said the Linn County Overflow Shelter System, enacted during winter 2015 and 2016 by many of the organizations in the Continuum of Care, also has helped keep individuals off the streets. The Overflow Shelter System opens when temperatures drop below 32 degrees and consists of an entry system so area agencies know which organization has open beds available for emergency shelter.
The report on the January count states that of the total homeless population, 111 were men, 122 were women and 164 were children.
Peterman said homeless families often have multiple children, which drives that number higher.
The report also addresses homeless students living in Linn County — or students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Five school districts — Cedar Rapids, College Community, Linn-Mar, Marion Independent and Mount Vernon — confirmed the numbers for the 2015-2016 academic year.
The report states there were 845 students doubled up in a home, in sheltered or transitional housing, unsheltered or living in a hotel or motel.
Peterman said the goal for all Linn County residents is permanent, independent, affordable housing. That also provides a stable environment for children.
The findings also dispel stereotypes about the homeless population, Peterman said.
“There are not a lot of individuals staying in places not meant for human habitation,” she said. “In the meantime, while they’re looking for housing, it is important for that community to continue to advocate for affordable housing.”
Peterman said she hopes the Continuum of Care will put more efforts into rapid rehousing, which includes offering support and possible temporary financial assistance to those on the verge of becoming homeless.
Waypoint already has changed case management services based on Point-in-Time findings to have more follow up and financial planning and budgeting resources.
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“Any individual that calls the shelter services saying they can’t come up with next month’s rent, we get them over to that case manager to keep that household in their housing,” she said.
Waypoint also hosts a quarterly landlord meeting to encourage landlords to work with organizations in the Continuum of Care if they are having issues with a tenant.
The Willis Dady Emergency Shelter in Cedar Rapids also is increasing prevention services to address the issues on why someone may become homeless. Those causes include substance abuse, lack of financial planning, health issues, prior evictions or loss of work.
The next Point-in-Time count takes place July 19.
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