Homelessness in Sioux City is certainly not a new topic of conversation. There are many wonderful organizations and agencies that have provided vital homeless services for decades. But, as City Council, we wondered how we could better support these initiatives and become more involved? We asked ourselves, how is the homeless system working in our community? What works well? What doesn’t? We discovered that help is out there for those who ask. That is the key – those who ask. Some people are struggling with mental health issues, addiction, and/or no support from family or friends. They have so many barriers to getting off the streets that it is often overwhelming, and they literally have no idea where to begin. The answer? Provide intensive street outreach and dedicate a fulltime staff person to go out into the community and establish relationships with people who many assume are lazy and want to live on the streets.
We applied for funds from the state of Iowa and dedicated a fulltime employee to homeless street outreach. Darlynn McMullen, Neighborhood Services Project Coordinator for the City of Sioux City, was excited to take on this opportunity and began reaching out to the most vulnerable in our community with the most housing barriers that were experiencing homelessness. In just one year, she contacted 112 people and over twenty-five percent were either housed or reunited with family members or their support system. That is huge! Remember, these were people who were not reaching out for help and likely would have continued on homeless for months or even years without this support.
We quickly recognized that we could do more and build off of this success. Therefore, starting in late 2019, a federal grant was used to create a homeless rapid rehousing program and another staff person, Clara Macfarlane Coly, was hired. The purpose of rapid rehousing is to house people first and work on their housing barriers once they are housed and stable. Can you imagine trying to show up for a job when you are worried about where you will sleep that night? Once housed in a safe and healthy place, staff provides ongoing case management and connections to other services to ensure they can successfully stay housed for the long-term.
The rapid rehousing program has continued throughout the last year with amazing results. The program was able to house 45 households consisting of 80 people including 12 single mothers and two single fathers. The homeless street outreach program continued to grow as well, with 193 individuals reached throughout the last year! Making these connections have helped us to better understand what challenges those experiencing homelessness face and how we can best help.
This brings us back to how we can be supporting the homeless through showing kindness. I think having a better understanding of what someone is going through results in a desire to show kindness to others. Below are just a few examples of how kindness provided through our programs has helped change the lives of fellow human beings:
- A pregnant mother was due to have her baby in August. She was working and barely able to make ends meet, so she lost her current housing. It was important that she get settled into a new apartment before the new baby arrived. She was housed through rapid rehousing and remains housed several months later.
- A single, disabled father in need of kidney dialysis and his teenage sons were staying in their car right as the COVID-19 pandemic began. They had lost all their belongings after a family breakup and needed help not only finding somewhere to live but furnishing their home. They were rapidly rehoused into an apartment with a porch and outside space for the boys to enjoy the summer. The father recently began dialysis, and their future is looking better.
- Two individuals had spent time in the hospital recovering from COVID-19. They were able to move directly from the hospital into their new apartments. They have since fully recovered and are looking forward to pursuing their housing, employment, and health goals.
How can you help? Everyone has a unique story that has brought them to where there are today. Everyone deserves understanding, compassion, and kindness. Although the City is incredibly grateful for the state and federal funding that supports these programs, those funds cannot pay for household items. Most the people housed through these programs move into their new apartment with just a backpack. Therefore, a new non-profit was created called Sioux City Community Assistance. This nonprofit accepts donations and private grants, and the money is used to create Fresh Start Home Kits, consisting of beds and basic household items to those newly housed. Donations are accepted at siouxcityassist.org.
By Alex Watters / Jill M. Wanderscheid