At a time when many individuals and families are struggling with the consequences of COVID-19, five Polk County nonprofits are receiving a boost in funding totaling over $1.8 million to help young people gain access to critical housing and supportive services. 

The funding, which was awarded to the city of Des Moines last year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, supports a rollout of the national Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. Des Moines was one of only 23 communities selected nationwide for this round of federal funding, which will allow organizations to implement two-year grant projects.

Through a competitive grant application process, five local nonprofit agencies were selected to receive funding for projects via the Polk County Continuum of Care. They are: 

  • Anawim Housing – $375,464 for Youth Housing Opportunities Program to serve young people with disabilities.
  • Children and Families of Iowa – $364,618 for Transitional Housing/Rapid Rehousing program for youths who have experienced domestic violence.
  • Institute for Community Alliances – $74,940 for Homelessness Information Management System data work to manage grants.
  • Iowa Homeless Youth Centers – $304,178 for Mental Health and Drop-in Services program and $527,448 for Individual and Family Youth Rapid Rehousing Program.
  • Primary Health Care – $162,446 for a Youth Housing Navigator position.

Projects are designed to provide housing options and supportive services for people under the age of 25 who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. The projects also focus on racial equity and addressing the disproportionate number of black youths who experience homelessness. 

“As a community, it is our task to ensure there is a clear pathway for youth to swiftly access the services they need to thrive,” said Angie Arthur, executive director of the Polk County Continuum of Care, the lead agency running the grant program. “Through this grant, we’re creating a communitywide approach to serving young people in innovative ways with the goal of youth homelessness becoming a rare, brief and nonrecurring experience.”

As the Polk County community processes the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial justice actions, resources to support housing, mental health and basic needs are more crucial than ever for young people. 

“It is a challenging time for so many residents in our community and for many nonprofits working to serve clients in unprecedented circumstances,” Arthur said. “YHDP funding will provide a ray of hope and a very necessary investment of resources to support youth during this time — and well into the future.”

The Polk County Continuum of Care, an independent nonprofit, coordinates the community’s response to homelessness. The YHDP grant projects have been developed in partnership with the Greater Des Moines community, including the Polk County Continuum of Care, the city of Des Moines, community health and service providers, youth-specific providers, government partners, HUD, and the Iowa Department of Human Services. 

The process has also been led by the Youth Action Council, a local group of young people with lived experience in homelessness who will help implement projects and provide feedback to agencies throughout the grant period. Projects are currently in the planning stage and are slated to begin serving youth this fall.