DES MOINES, Iowa– COVID-19 still presents challenges to the most vulnerable and underserved in Iowa.
Iowa Homeless Youth Centers and Polk County Community Family and Youth Services both said the pandemic has elevated the need for their services. So instead of closing their doors, they’ve changed their procedures.
“We’re going out into the streets. We’re providing food at the door for all of our lunches and dinners for youth to come in. We’ll do laundry for them. But we also will still let them come in if they have a telehealth medical appointment or mental health appointment,” Director of the Iowa Homeless Youth Centers, Toby O’Berry said.
IHYC has also been providing youth with the needed technology to keep them connected.
“We’ve started purchasing cell phones and having data plans, prepaid plans and providing those to our youth to keep them connected and keep them engaged, so they can still do therapy appointments, see their primary care physician, still in school,” O’Berry said.
To limit the amount of traffic coming through their doors, IHYC has been working to find youth permanent housing. However, O’Berry said this has been a major challenge as many have lost their jobs.
According to the Department of U.S Labor, unemployment rates continue to decrease in the state. However, the Iowa Workforce Development reports the unemployment rate is still more than doubled than what it was last year.
Polk County, which represents a third of the state’s homeless population, has put in place multiple emergency assistance programs. This includes an isolation shelter at the State Fairgrounds.
This effort was meant to support those who had COVID-19 but didn’t have a place to go to self isolate. The Director of the Polk County Community Family and Youth Services, Eric Kool, said the goal was to slow down the trajectory of the spread of the virus.
According to the CDC, people who are experiencing homelessness are always at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
“We’re worried about how COVID can either complicate that picture or create more health complications, which of course can put a burden on the healthcare system as well,” Kool said. “So there’s kind of two concerns there. One for folks who might get sicker more quickly and then the effect that has on the healthcare community’s ability to respond.”
The isolation shelter at the fairgrounds ended in July. Polk County and Iowa Youth Centers both have rapid housing programs to help the homeless find permanent places of residence.
This year Iowa Homeless Youth Centers will still be holding the fundraiser, Reggie’s Sleepout, an event created in the memory of Reggie Kelsey, a Des Moines youth who within three and a half months, died after aging out of foster care.
This event is usually held at Drake Stadium. This year they are asking people to sleep out at their own homes. 100% of the proceeds will go to serving Des Moines homeless youth. Reggie’s Sleepout will be held September 4-13th. To learn more about this program, visit this website.