Letter from the CEO

Dear Friends,

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of meeting and serving hundreds of people in our community who are on the fringe. They are adrift. They might medicate their traumas, perhaps appear fearsome to ensure their own survival. Their bodies and spirits have wounds so deep they are heartbreaking and almost incomprehensible. The weight of what they have to carry is daunting, but we should not look away.

In Polk County, there are at least 580 homeless individuals living on the streets or at an emergency shelter. The number may even be higher as we are just beginning to witness the impacts of COVID-19. Providers are reporting they are seeing triple the number of people who are seeking housing. And nearly 20% of Iowans fear they may be evicted or face foreclosure. We also know that 40% of hardworking Iowans are rent-burdened, meaning they are spending more than 30% of their income leaving little extra for essentials such as food and medicine even as inflation grows taking a bigger bite out of a minimum wage paycheck. In Central Iowa alone, there is a shortage of nearly 12,000 affordable rental units. More and more low-income renters are losing their housing as properties are being renovated into higher-end apartments.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us with an increasingly critical shortage of affordable housing options AND an inadequate supply of permanent supportive housing for those in our community who face chronic homelessness.

I know we can do more! I’ve spent the last 18 years dedicated to developing and implementing programming in the housing and homelessness arenas. One of my proudest achievements was helping to build and launch the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus, which is home to over 140 residents. But, I knew there is still so much more we can do and that is why I am coming to you.

Imagine a new model of housing. A model that believes housing can heal. A model that will take what we already know works and expand it to better serve the needs of our community. A model that will address chronic homelessness and affordable housing needs in one facility. A model that is highly cost-effective and humane and will divert individuals from unnecessary and costly institutional placements—jail, prison, mental health facilities, and nursing homes. A model that will enable some of our most vulnerable to age-in-place and stay in the only place they have known as home. And a model that will recognize the continuum of individuals facing homelessness from low-income wage earners to mental illness to addictions to disabilities and brain injuries.

Through the years, I have come to understand that what people crave is belonging. Just to be seen, as is, and accepted. This seems so simple, yet there are barriers at every turn. I believe creating this circle of inclusion and safe space for these vulnerable individuals– is my life’s work.

imagine with us that you are walking through this new facility designed to serve 100-150 individuals. Feel the dignity and sense of accomplishment as the residents are introduced to services designed to help them remain housing stable. Experience the joy within these four walls of new beginnings, hopes for tomorrow, and finding a place to belong in the world. Imagine HOME! Throughout this document, you will find our dream. You will see there is an urgent need for an affordable housing solution with unprecedented holistic support for individuals. I have come to understand that space and time for healing creates true change for people, affecting the whole trajectory of their lives. Everyone deserves this opportunity; no one should be outside the circle of belonging.

I invite you to become a champion of this dream and to invest in it. The time is now to create belonging, wellness, and home.

Emily Osweiler, MSW
CEO, Greater Des Moines Supportive Housing