Jun 4, 2024 - News

Des Moines has removed 70 homeless encampments so far this year

A photo of a Des Moines homeless camp notice.

Des Moines posts 10-day notices prior to removing encampments. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Des Moines had cleared at least 70 encampments of people experiencing homelessness this year as of last week, according to city data obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The actions come as the number of unsheltered people in Polk County hits a record high, according to the most recent report from Homeward, a local homeless advocacy nonprofit.

Driving the news: Polk County officials recently asked DSM police for assistance with people sleeping under an awning at River Place, a county office building.

  • The county cited safety as the reason for the removals, noting that some doorways were blocked by the campers.
  • Human waste and trash also created unsanitary conditions requiring a pressure washer to clean the areas, county administrator John Norris wrote in a memo to supervisors.

By the numbers: Homeward's count in late January identified 715 people experiencing homelessness in Polk County.

  • That's up 11% from 644 the previous year.

Context: The encampment removals are a result of DSM's encroachment policy, which is intended to balance the wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness with community concerns.

  • Inspectors post a 10-day notice warning campers to remove personal property at the sites prior to any action.
  • The city also works with community groups to provide outreach and social services to those affected.

Zoom in: DSM recently implemented a software system to better track encroachment complaints.

  • While the city doesn't have quantifiable data from previous years, city staffers believe there have been more complaints and enforcement actions this year, Chis Johansen, Neighborhood Services Director, tells Axios.

What they're saying: The increase in people experiencing homelessness is partly linked with the end of pandemic-era programs and a lack of affordable housing in the metro, Angie Arthur, director of Homeward told the Register.

  • Meanwhile, DMARC Food Pantry Network continues to see near-record requests for assistance, spokesperson Blake Willadsen, tells Axios.

The bottom line: The city asks residents to be mindful of people's privacy and not to disturb or approach encampments, Johansen said.

A photo of trash and a shopping cart that's located in the front of a building.
People have recently been sleeping under an awning at Polk County's River Place office building, sometimes blocking doors and leaving trash behind. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios
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