It’s been my pleasure this year to make several visits to Atlantic, which is the Cass County Seat and one of the larger cities in Southwest Iowa. This part of Iowa is the least populated and the only services focused on homelessness are based in Council Bluffs, which shares a Continuum of Care with Omaha. Continuums of Care are the service and funding regions recognized by the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is the primary funder of homelessness services in the United States. 96 counties in Iowa form a Continuum of Care, with only Pottawattamie (which includes Council Bluffs, Woodbury (Sioux City) and Polk (Des Moines) excluded, as they are part of their own CoCs.
In the Balance of State, which is what the 96-county Continuum of Care is called, work has been underway for the past two years to create more manageable sub-regions, called Coordinated Services Regions. Agencies in these regions are in various states of formation and have received planning funds from the Iowa Finance Authority. These regions include 70 counties, leaving 26 in what is called the Balance of Counties. All these counties are in the southern half of the state. In Southwest Iowa, these include Monona, Crawford, Carroll, Harrison, Shelby, Audubon, Cass, Mills, Montgomery, Fremont and Page Counties.
Home Forward Iowa is subcontracted by Hawkeye Area Community Action Programs (HACAP) to assist with Coordinated Entry, particularly in the western half of the state. Coordinated Entry is the means by which people experiencing homelessness receive services. It is supposed to streamline and expedite the process. People accessing the process, whether via phone or at a physical access point. A household that makes contact is assessed. They may initially be diverted to shelter or other safe arrangements, or assigned a score which determines their eligibility for transitional housing, rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing.
In Atlantic and the rest of Southwest Iowa, this summer has seen movement toward collaboration and a great deal of interest in identifying housing. We’ve had one meeting there of people representing most of the counties listed above and another is scheduled for September. In addition, I’ve visited participating agencies in Red Oak and Clarinda. Participants here, as in most of the other regions which have already formed include agencies such as health clinics, mental health services, substance abuse services, public health, local law enforcement, schools, and faith-based assistance.
I have also attended two monthly meetings of C.L.E.A.N. (Community Leadership Effectively Acting Now). This group was formed to address the growing problem of substance abuse in the area and related issues, including a shortage of affordable and supportive housing. The rise in substance abuse is due to many factors, including the national opioid crisis. Also, meth from Mexico has made its way to the area. This group includes many of the same categories as listed above but is hosted by Mayor Dave Jones and meets in the City Council chambers. The group is very determined to get a handle on this public health crisis and has received non-profit status with the State while they are applying for federal 501(c)(3) status. They hope to garner grants that can be turned into a staff position.
I look forward to Home Forward Iowa helping create a new Coordinated Services Region in Southwest Iowa, including helping them create some programs to fund housing as well as to partner with those agencies based in Council Bluffs that also serve some or all of the surrounding region. And I look forward to working with C.L.E.A.N. and other community groups in Atlantic in creating a housing task force to explore and develop options for those who need rapid re- housing or permanent supportive housing.