Iowa City Housing Information

Housing & Homeless Needs Assesment: Homeless Needs:
Nature & Extent of Homelessness


I. Development of the 2001-2006 Consolidation Plan (CITY STEPS) II. Housing & Homeless Needs Assesment III. Housing Market Analysis IV. Strategic Plan V. Certifications VI. Appendices
A. General Estimated Housing Needs B. Housing Needs Assesment C. Homeless Needs D. Supportive Housing Needs of Non Homeless Special Needs Populations E. Lead Based Paint Hazards
1. Nature & Extent of Homelessness 2. Facility Needs for Homeless Populations 3. Service Needs for Homeless Populations
a. Individuals b. Families with Children c. Rural Homelessness d. Persons with Special Needs (Subpopulations) e. Persons Threatened with Homelessness f. Homelessness by Racial and Ethnic Group


1. Nature and Extent of Homelessness.

There are many reasons that persons who are homeless or near homeless come to Iowa City. Expectation of higher wages, need for medical attention from one of Iowa City's three hospitals, the community's reputation for excellent social services, an attractive community with good parks and recreational opportunities and the University of Iowa are some of the draws that attract people to the community.

Upon arrival, however, many persons encounter the realities of life in a university town. Iowa City has the highest housing costs as a percentage of income of any community in the state; homeless persons have to compete with students for the limited amount of housing that is relatively affordable. Many of the available jobs are in services that offer largely low-paying, no-benefit, or temporary jobs. Persons who hold these low-paying jobs, especially if they are heads of households, cannot reasonably afford housing costs. In addition, waiting lists for many of the community's services can mean weeks of waiting for housing or medical assistance. The result is that many individuals and families in this group often arrive in Iowa City jobless, homeless, and often needing medical care.

According to data collected by the Emergency Housing Project's (EHP) emergency shelter during FY98, 69% of the 835 shelter guests served in FY98 were from locations other than Iowa City. Only 17% of those served were considered transient, not intending to remain in Iowa City.

Persons who are homeless and are from Johnson County/Iowa City find themselves in crisis for a variety of reasons. These factors are typical of the national homeless population and include job loss, mental disability, substance abuse, domestic disputes and violence, and financial, medical and social crisis from which they cannot recover.

During FY98 Iowa City's two emergency shelters for homeless adults, accompanied minors and victims of domestic abuse reported serving approximately 1,200 people. These numbers are approximately 9.1% higher than the 1,100 people served in FY94. The shelters for unaccompanied youth served an additional 526 youth during FY98.

On Tuesday October 5, 1999, City of Iowa City conducted an official point-in-time count of all sheltered homeless persons and persons living in transitional housing. On this same day, at 3 a.m. the City of Iowa City Police department conducted a count of visibly unsheltered homeless people. Shelter guests were surveyed and counted during the evening intake process and to avoid duplication with the police count people were asked where they were at 3 a.m. that morning. No one responded that they were on the streets. Residents of all three emergency shelters were surveyed 1) the Emergency Housing Project's emergency shelter for adults and accompanied minors; 2) the Domestic Violence Program's emergency shelter for women and children, and 3) Youth Home's Emergency Shelter for unaccompanied minors. There were 71 families, individuals, and unaccompanied minors surveyed. The Emergency Housing Program sheltered 29 individuals within its structure, but had to provide hotel vouchers to 6 individuals because of capacity constraints.

In addition, there were 36 families in HACAP's transitional housing units. D&K Properties provided shelter to 33 people, two of which were children in its transitional housing units. Support services are offered by both HACAP and Successful Living. The high percentage of duplication between emergency shelter users and users of the Salvation Army's day center deterred us from including this center.

The October 5 count also recorded 18 unsheltered homeless individuals on the streets and under the bridges of Iowa City including one individual living in a van. Since the count of unsheltered individuals was only conducted in Iowa City, and a count of the larger county area is beyond current resources, it is assumed that this population has been undercounted. Anecdotal evidence from within the homeless community suggests that during warmer months as many as 30 individuals seek shelter under bridges and at campgrounds outside of Iowa City but within Johnson County.

a. Individuals

Persons who are homeless and living alone represent the largest percentage of those served at Iowa City's emergency shelters. As indicated in Table II.6, 42.2% of the sheltered, homeless adults counted on October 5, 1999 were living alone. Annualized data from the Emergency Housing Project (EHP) reported that 668 of the 835 (80%) persons sheltered there in FY98 were living alone. The majority of persons who are homeless and living alone are served by EHP.

Data collected during the October 20, 1994 survey suggested that 93% of the adult respondents hoped to remain in Iowa City. If this statistic is applied to the annualized data (using 1998 numbers), then as many as 777 individuals could be seeking permanent housing in our community. Shelter records show that many of these individuals do succeed in finding some type of housing, but many return to the shelter after eviction, domestic dispute, or personal crisis. Often, better developed support systems could have prevented their return.

Youth Homes, Inc. currently operates two transitional group-housing programs for unaccompanied youth. These facilities provide a stable and supportive environment to assist youth in crisis in remaining in school and managing the difficulties in their lives. In FY99 the transitional program served an estimated 20 youth. Youth Homes, Inc also operates a long-term housing for youth that houses an average of 10 youth for periods over 1 year.

Greater Iowa City Housing Fellowship operates a program through a local bank, which provides homeless people money needed for a security deposit. The deposit money comes in the form of a one-year no interest loan. There is also up to $80 available for utility deposits.

b. Families with Children

During FY98, an estimated 1,200 individuals were served by Iowa City's adult shelters; nearly 200 of these individuals were children accompanied by at least one parent. The Emergency Housing Project served 74 children


Table II.6

click to enlarge (13K)

with their parents in an environment unequipped to deal with the needs of children in crisis. While historical data are not available to support a trend in families who are homeless, the data collected for this Consolidated Plan affirm the claims of providers that there are a large number of families and children arriving at the emergency shelters each year. Records kept by EHP indicate that as many as three families are turned away from its shelter each week due to lack of space.

The one-night count conducted on October 5, 1999 indicates that about 44% of all persons who are homeless were in families with minor children. Iowa City's Local Homeless Coordinating Board reported that during FY94, 143 families were served by local emergency shelters, while another 20 found shelter in cars, tents, abandoned buildings, and the streets.

Women and children fleeing domestic violence are the largest segment of sheltered homeless families. In FY98 the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) sheltered 245 women with a total of 237 children. Staff limitations at DVIP restrict the capacity to 30 (women and children) at any time although the facility capacity is 60. The DVIP shelter staff states that the actual number of women needing assistance may be higher.

The Iowa City Housing Authority is in the process of implementing a Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Participants create a 5-year goal plan for themselves with the final goal being self sufficiency. A baseline rent is set of 30% of monthly income. As income increases rent increases to remain at 30% of monthly income. This extra rent money is placed in an escrow account which belongs to the participant after 5 years provided the participant is self sufficient, that is not on any form of public assistance. The escrow account will continue to grow up to the point when the participant earns 80% of median income. The ICHA has the discretion to extend the goal plan by two years if necessary.

The Emergency Housing Program (EHP) is the lead agency for a program that started in October. The Successful Training with Appropriate Resources (STAR) program is designed for homeless persons who are not eligible for other assistance programs. The funding for this comes from HUD in the form of a three-year, $400,000 per year, employment and training grant. EHP anticipates helping 110 individuals over the next three years with a goal of placing 85% of participants in permanent employment and stable housing. As part of this goal EHP plans to place participants in three-month subsidized internships with businesses or non-profit organizations. The goal of the internship period is to provide job skills and hopefully job references. Additionally, EHP anticipates providing funds for transportation to work, funds for daycare, substance abuse treatment and counseling through the STAR program.

c. Rural Homelessness

The City of Iowa City and the surrounding communities have never studied the causes and conditions of rural homelessness in Johnson County. Anecdotal evidence from service providers suggests a significant problem with "doubling-up" of several families in inadequate housing. Another suspected problem is the condition of the most-affordable rural housing stock. Dilapidated, poorly maintained homes may be affordable in the summer, but left unmaintained, the expense of heating such a home in the winter drives the cost beyond affordable levels. Accessing services and support is also more difficult for those living in rural areas as public transportation is not available and travel time can be significant, especially when repeat visits to providers are needed.

d. Persons with Special Needs (Subpopulations)

Data collected from the 1994 point-in-time count of persons who are homeless found 29% of those surveyed had special needs including mental illness (13.2%), substance abuse (8.8%), substance abuse with mental illness (3.5%) or medical disability/HIV/AIDS (3.5%). These figures include responses from unaccompanied youth in the Youth Homes emergency facility. If the adult shelters are studied alone, 57.5% of the 45 respondents had service needs: mental illness (19.9%); substance abuse (22.2%); substance abuse and mental illness (8.8%); and medical disability/HIV/AIDS (6.6%).

Anecdotal evidence from EHP and DVIP suggests that on average 40% of persons using their facilities have some special needs related to mental illness, substance abuse, or medical disability. These special needs populations demand a disproportionate amount of staff time and effort to assist them in managing their needs.

e. Persons Threatened with Homelessness

While the point-in-time count did not request information on those in danger of becoming homeless, this is an important group to understand as long-range plans for homeless prevention and services are made. The annual study Homelessness In Iowa provides a glimpse into the vulnerability of persons in Johnson County becoming homeless.

Iowa State University identified eight variables associated with homelessness and ranked all 99 Iowa counties on those variables to determine vulnerability to homelessness for its 1997 Homelessness In Iowa report. The variables were: (1) unemployment rate, (2) poverty rate, (3) child abuse rate, (4) per capita income, (5) food stamp rate, (6) Title XIX enrollment rate, (7) monthly number of Family Investment Program (FIP) cases, and (8) monthly number of FIP cases where parent(s) is/are unemployed. Johnson County had a ranking of 99, meaning it is the least vulnerable county in Iowa. This is due to the many services available in Iowa City for homeless persons.

Iowa City's Crisis Center defines the imminently homeless as those who are, "one situation away from homelessness"; this definition is based on the realization that 94% of the clients to whom they supply economic assistance report incomes at or below the poverty level making it highly unlikely that those clients could survive a negative economic situation. In FY98 the Crisis Center served 2,150 households in Johnson County who fit its definition of imminently homeless.


Anecdotal evidence from both EHP and DVIP suggests that as many as 40% of the clients they serve have some form of diminished mental capacity, or substance abuse or other health concerns that contribute to their homelessness. According to EHP and DVIP, the number of clients facing compounded problems may actually be increasing. Improved access to physical and mental health care could mitigate the difficulties faced by these individuals in maintaining and retaining housing.

f. Homelessness by Racial and Ethnic Group

During FY99 there were 1,173 adults sheltered in Iowa City's emergency shelters. The racial and ethnic background of those guests is as follows:

Race/EthnicityFY99 % of Shelter GuestsIowa City Population
Hispanic 3.41.4
Native American 0.30.4
Unknown or Other Race22.62.0

Overall, minorities represent 42.6% of all shelter guests but only 12.8% of the population of the entire community. While this may indicate a greater incidence of homelessness within minority groups in the community, it is important to realize that 65% or more of all shelter guests are from places other than Johnson County. Therefore, no significant conclusion can be drawn.

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