Skip to main content

Neighborhoods 101: What are the homeless statistics for Des Moines?

A man sleeps on the street in front of a sign advertising luxury condos in Manhattan
A man sleeps on the street in front of a sign advertising luxury condos in Manhattan
Wikimedia: David Shankbone


Iowa's "hidden population" is too large to hide.


The Iowa Homelessness Study conducted in 2001 concluded that over 18,000 homeless people (4,300 in Des Moines alone) and over 7,000 near-homeless people live in Iowa.Two percent (2%) of the homeless and 90 percent (90%) of the near-homeless, single adult households with children, are headed by a woman. Disaster continues to unfold as the near-homeless population bustles, birthing additions to the officially homeless masses.

The population of homeless Iowans has surpassed critical mass. The Mental Health & Homelessness in Iowa study conducted in 2005 concluded that over 21,000 Iowans were homeless at some point during 2005 (an increase of 2,688 people since 1999). During the two-weeks in which this study was conducted, 765 homeless people were turned away from Iowa shelters due to insufficient space. Prominence of this occurrence increases in larger cities and correlates positively with increasing urban development.

According to the Fall 2007 Association of Gospel Rescue Mission (AGRM) Snap Shot Survey providing demographic data for 22,000 homeless, 18% more couples and whole families sought help from rescue missions in 2006, than in the previous three years. Salting an open wound, families with children comprise the homeless household majority. This trend clears a path for an increasingly younger homeless population that is ill-equipped for adult challenges. Homeless children and youth are more likely to experience a warped right-of-passage writhed with undernourishment, halted or suppressed educational opportunity, and injury from physical and mental abuse.

There is a clear stigma associated with homelessness:

that this entire population is wholly responsible for its decline to this state – which is not accurate. About 40 percent (40%) of homeless persons included in the Mental Health And Homelessness In Iowa study had an issue of mental health. This percentage also applies to the prevalence of substance abuse among Iowa's homeless population. It is a two-edged sword for homeless persons seeking life-recovery who have been displaced due to circumstances such as layoffs or refugee status. Fewer programs exist for non-addicts and adults over the age of eighteen, than for those with a history of substance abuse; and or who have not attained voting age in Iowa and across the United States.


However, programs for the homeless are historically dissociative across the nation, resulting in wayward and ultimately reduced or dissolved services in one geographic region with a high need ratio, whereas a particular state may have access to more funding and better programs, with a smaller accessing constituency. Whatever characteristics convolute the homeless diaspora, researchers in Iowa agree that, “...more shelter beds and transitional housing are needed in the near term to provide for the increasing numbers of homeless Iowans.” According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, while over one million homeless youth requiring services are documented across the United States, this number is an inherently inadequate calculation since not all cases are reported each year. Homeless youth are recognized as a “hidden population.”

And that's not all...


Amongst the statistics of Iowa's homeless population: the concentration of women is higher than that of men; minority groups are disproportionately homeless; and African-Americans are significantly over-represented in Iowa’s homeless population, comprising nearly one-quarter of all of Iowa's homeless– despite total constitution of less than five percent (5%) of Iowa's state population.

Comments