Staff Editorials

Iowans must not lose sight of homeless prevention

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)

Iowa made important progress in the latest national report on homelessness, but pressing concerns remain.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual report showed only 9 out of every 10,000 people in Iowa experienced homelessness in 2017, and less than 1 percent of those individuals are chronically homeless, totaling just 170 people statewide. Additionally, among those Iowans experiencing homelessness, just 4 percent were staying in unsheltered locations, the lowest rate in the nation.

These figures are promising in many ways. Advocates and service providers across the state have fought hard to expand shelter space and reduce barriers to access, especially during winter months. We commend the many Eastern Iowa organizations working together to serve clients’ diverse needs.

It’s true Iowa’s economy and social supports are strong compared to other states. However, enormous challenges still lie before us. Keeping neighbors off the streets is the bare minimum we should expect, it’s hardly a cause for celebration.

The housing crisis takes many different forms. Migrant workers sleep on floors in shared apartments. Young adults bounce between family members’ and friends’ couches. Mothers and their children struggle to escape abuse.

Another study this month by the Joint Center for Housing Studies found 40 percent of Iowa renters are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of income on housing.With Iowa’s homelessness numbers so low, we hope to see policymakers and service providers focus greater attention on the those teetering on the edge of homelessness.

Struggling families may be one unexpected expense away from sleeping on the street. Something as simple as a car repair or short-term illness can set off a dismal chain of events, which leads to financial hardship.

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The Crisis Center of Johnson County reports 92 percent of its housing and utility assistance clients maintain their housing, needing a little more than $100 on average.

However, there are not enough resources to help working families get emergency cash assistance. That’s despite evidence showing small cash assists can prevent homelessness, and letting a family slip into homelessness will ultimately cost taxpayers more.

In the richest nation on earth, there is no reason a minor expense should ruin a family. We must do better.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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