Updated Apr 4, 2023 - News

Why people in need skip Des Moines' homeless shelters

An illustration of shadows pointing fingers and struggling to deal with a homeless person

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

People experiencing homelessness sometimes avoid emergency shelters because they believe the assistance isn't worth interrupting their routines, according to a local report being discussed today by the City Council.

Why it matters: People who need assistance the most sometimes aren't getting the full scope of services available to them.

  • The disconnect exacerbates challenges for people in need as well as for the larger community, multiple downtown business leaders told the council last year.

Catch up fast: The "Unsheltered DSM Study" was a research partnership last year between Drake University, some local governments and multiple organizations.

  • It surveyed 152 unsheltered people in Polk County.

What they found: Some people don't want to abide by rules common in shelter settings.

  • Safety concerns and negative interactions with staff and other people using shelters also play a role.

Yes, but: Only two survey respondents said they wanted to continue to live outside.

Of note: The plurality (29%) indicated more compassion is needed from those in charge of services.

Zoom in: Survey recommendations include stronger partnerships between harm reduction organizations and shelters to limit on-site conflicts and drug usage.

Read the full report


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