DES MOINES – The City of Des Moines Homeless Coordinating Council worked with Drake University to conduct a study of the unsheltered homeless population in Des Moines to figure out the best way to help. The results of the study are eye-opening.

Drake University professors Elizabeth Talbert and Matthew Record headed up the study along with the help of undergraduate students. Talbert focused on collecting the data through surveys and interviews while Record made policy recommendations with it.

Talbert said that they needed a wide variety of people to survey who have experienced unsheltered homelessness.

“We discussed the need to make sure that the study was as representative as possible of the population of people in Polk County who are living or have had experience living unsheltered. We wanted to make sure we drew from voices that spanned the range of experiences people have had with emergency shelters and with living outside, ” Talbert said in a statement.

Talbert and her team of undergraduate students surveyed 150 unsheltered people and then selected 30-40 to do in-depth interviews.

Talbert said her team of researchers worked tirelessly over the summer conducting interviews and working with outreach teams.

“Our team spent summer days at meal sites or the public library talking to unsheltered folks; we rode along with outreach workers as they checked up on our unsheltered neighbors living in encampments around the metro area; we walked downtown streets and alleys and through the skywalks to chat with people about their experiences,” Talbert said.

The study identified six barriers to shelter that the unsheltered homeless face: physical conditions of the shelter, rules, routines, and norms of the shelter, perceptions of shelter staff, problems with other shelter clients, gender-specific experiences, barriers and apathy, and the precarious balance of daily survival.

Record worked to come up with policy recommendations for the short, medium, and long term to address the barriers.

Record said that one of the key takeaways was that homelessness is not a choice.

“The major takeaway from this report for everyday people, people who don’t have any expertise on this topic, is that really, truly, and sincerely nobody chooses to be homeless,” Record said. “The people we talked to want the same thing everybody wants. They want stability, they want a sense of home, they want a sense of dignity, they want to be able to just come home and unwind the way any human being does at the end of a long day, and they’re denied that day after day month after month year after year. No one would affirmatively choose that.”

Homeward, an outreach organization aiming to help the homeless in Polk County, released the study. If you want to learn more about the study’s findings visit Homeward’s website.