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Homeless Have Shorter Shelter Stays as Part of "Rapid Rehousing" Push

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- A new "snapshot" of homeless numbers in Linn County is now out, but those numbers don't show one of the bigger changes going on behind the scenes at some emergency shelters.

The Linn County Continuum of Care totals up those in shelters and those receiving transitional housing and permanent housing help twice a year. The latest numbers, taken July 31, show a total of 416 people are homeless in Linn County. That was divided up 40 percent children, 31 percent men and 29 percent women.

One figure not included in the latest report is the average length of stay in an emergency shelter. Tim Wilson, executive director of the Willis Dady Shelter, said at his facility, that's a figure that's changed significantly in the last year. It was 31 days a year or so ago. Now, it's closer to 21 days.

Wilson said the difference is a shift in federal funding to assist more in what social services call rapid rehousing. That means there are now more grants available to get people into transitional housing or rental assistance rather than money put strictly into shelter operations. He said it's really a new nationwide emphasis on dealing with those considered homeless.

"I guess our policy has become more focused on getting people into housing. The resources have changed from the federal government in terms of the Emergency Solutions Program, which is housing or rental assistance," Wilson said.

Wilson said shorter stays in a shelter is a way to expand capacity without new construction. If people leave the shelter sooner, then more beds are available for those in immediate need of a place to stay.

Carrie Slagle, Homeless and Housing Services director for Waypoint, said pushing the homeless into permanent housing before they have a stable employment and family situation can be counterproductive if clients regress to needing shelter housing again. But Slagle said that's why program directors are watching to see how the rapid rehousing push is working.

"It's definitely starting to have an impact and the community will continue to assess the effectiveness...The intent is to get people transitioned quickly out of homelessness and back into permanent housing, " Slagle said.

The survey of the homeless found 99 people staying in the variety of emergency shelter homes on that July date. It also found five people total living on the streets. That was a decrease from 11 people found living on the streets in the July 2012 survey.

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