Homeless veteran population increases by more than 14 percent in Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Lawmakers are looking for solutions to help bring down the number of homeless veterans in the state. A study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed an increase here in the state.

Iowa Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley sent a letter to the VA asking for answers. The report shows since 2017 veteran homelessness nationally has decreased from 40,020 to about 37,878 or about 5.5 percent. But in Iowa, the number of homes vets has increased 14.6 percent since 2017. Those state numbers don't apply to parts of eastern Iowa, though.

Veteran's Affairs Health Care for Homeless Veterans Work Supervisor Jennifer Smentek said it's actually down 3.5 percent in Linn and Johnson County.

"Veterans are still homeless and we always want to get them off the street and into stable housing and we certainly are working towards that," said Smentek.

Jimmie Newbury was an army infantryman from 1967 to 1973. He moved around a lot after he got out. At one point, he even lived on the street for about a year.

"I had Hepatitis C from needles and stuff back in my day and it kind of got worse. Then, I was homeless," said Newbury.

Newbury said the programs offered at the VA office helped save his life.

"I was living in dumpsters, boxes, wherever you think you can stay to keep warm," said Newbury.

Smentek said this case is unfortunately not unique.

"Veterans are still homeless and we always want to get them off the street and into stable housing and we certainly are working towards that," said Smentek.

She pointed out that not everybody in the stats are on the streets, some at least are set up with shelter through programs like grant per-diem beds. But when reports like this are released, it gives them the chance to get the resources to continue to help people.

"It provides us with the opportunity to work with HUD and to work with the VA to provide those programs," said Smentek.

Newbury said, now, he highly recommends others in his situation to reach out, too.

"If you're a veteran and you're in need, get to the VA so that you can get help," said Newbury.

To read the full HUD report, click here.