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North Iowa homelessness programs receive more than $1 million
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North Iowa homelessness programs receive more than $1 million

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Every year, to make strides toward combating the issue of homelessness in America, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) disperses funds for thousands upon thousands of local programs that help people with emergency shelters, transitional shelters and permanent housing programs. 

For 2020, HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced that the department would be delivering nearly $2.2 billion in grants to approximately 6,593 local programs. 

And more than $9 million of that will go to 41 programs in the state of Iowa.

A local issue

Jason Mohr, a regional administrator for HUD, said that the funding announced is "critical to providing more resources to individuals and families to avoid homelessness and added that Iowa's funding actually went up by more than $608,000 from 2018, according to a press release.

At least five programs with North Iowa-area ties will benefit from that funding: Northeast Iowa Permanent Housing Program, which is receiving $210,595; North Iowa Rapid Housing Initiative, which will get $186,139; Turning Point Rural Housing Project, which will receive $297,622; the Passport to Independence, which is getting $234,430 and the YSS Youth Rapid Rehousing Program which is getting $136,477.

The first three programs are run through Friends of the Family which works in Butler, Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Franklin, Mitchell and Worth counties as well as Iowa counties farther east. 

According to Executive Director Ben Brustkern, the North Iowa Rapid Housing Initiative, alone, projects to serve about 40 clients over the course of the year. He said that the average stay for the program is about to six to nine months and then those people using the program exit and pick up more permanent housing.

Women's Shelter

A Northern Lights Alliance for the Homeless shelter.

"Those programs are the first step in helping families and individuals experiencing homelessness get back onto their feet and get into permanent housing," Brustkern said. "All of those programs provide, in some ways, rental assistance, supportive services and case management." He added that just in Mason City, which Friends of the Family started working in about three years ago, the organization has been able to see an effect. 

The Family Alliance for Veterans of America is another organization doing work in the North Iowa area that received federal grants (for its Passport to Independence) but, unlike Friends of the Family, their work is more targeted.

Program Director Denise Holst said that the Forest City group serves veterans that are chronically homeless and need to get off the street. (Individuals dealing with chronic homelessness have experienced homelessness for at least a year, or repeatedly, while also often dealing with serious physical or mental disabilities. 

In its past year, Holst said that they helped at least seven veterans who had homelessness issues get connect to services such as food stamps, medical care, health insurance and the V.A. 

Holst drove home the point that what her organization does for veterans can take on all sorts of forms.

"We provide a lot of case management so we’re hands on with veterans. We help them out whatever they need. Whatever needs they have."

Overall homelessness figures in Iowa went down, slightly, from 2018 to 2019.

Totals in Iowa counties outside of Polk and Woodbury dropped by almost 400 (from 1,721 to 1,379) as did the numbers within those counties. 

Within that figure of 1,379,353 people were under the age of 18 while the number for those over 24 is more than 900. More than 600 of the 1,379 are women of any age and 774 were men of any age. 

While the most recent numbers for Iowa represent a dip, homelessness is on the rise across the United States. 

Every year, since 2016, the overall estimated number of Americans who experienced homelessness, on at least a single night, has gone up.

From 2016 to 2017, it only went up by about 1,000 (549,928 to 550,996). The increase from 2017 to 2018 was more than 2,000 (up to 552,830). And that total climbed by more than 15,000 between 2018 and 2019 (to 567,715). That marks an increase of 2.7 percent in the past year but, when accounting for the entire decade, there's been nearly an 11 percent decline since 2010. 

According to the HUD report, the number of families with children experiencing homelessness declined by about 5 percent from 2018 and by more than 32 percent since 2010.

The report also mentions that "local communities also reported a continuing trend in reducing veteran homelessness across the country" though numbers from the VA show that more than 37,000 vets still experience homelessness in 2019. 

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Looking forward in 2020

From sports to entertainment to government and more, here's what you can expect so far in the new decade.

Reach Reporter Jared McNett at 641-421-0527. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @TwoHeadedBoy98. 

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