What is a Housing First approach?
If a person is hungry, you don’t ask them to purchase pots and pans and then learn how to cook. You feed them first, and then begin to address the root causes that led to hunger. Similarly, “Housing First” is a strategy rooted in the belief that all people deserve housing before the root causes that led to housing instability can be addressed.
Iowa West Foundation grantee Anawim is now using this model in Council Bluffs. With the housing-first approach, there are no mandatory prerequisites. It meets people where they are in life and removes the barriers that often keep people experiencing homelessness out on the streets and not in permanent housing. The objective is to move a person experiencing homelessness or living in an emergency shelter into permanent housing as quickly as possible.
“A huge amount of philanthropic support goes to address homelessness without addressing the root causes of homelessness,” said Brenda Mainwaring, president and CEO of the Iowa West Foundation in Council Bluffs. “If somebody doesn’t have shelter, they can’t even begin to think about all of the other ways to succeed.”
This model recognizes that they must have a safe place to live before they can begin to work on things like increasing their income or improving their mental health. In essence, a person’s basic needs must be met before addressing other needs. It is a recovery-oriented approach officially adopted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2009. Anawim operates on this model of permanent housing with individualized support.
“Outcomes are not going to improve when they are on the street. They are figuring out how to survive. Most cannot put that energy into things like finding mental health services, but once they have their basic needs met, they can begin to address what is next for them.”
– Brandi Luther, Local Anawim Program Manager
What is Anawim Housing?
In 2022, Anawim officially launched in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and began offering its programs. Anawim’s programs help assist those who might not qualify for the other programs and has more flexibility to address housing needs creatively.
Anawim Housing has been an established leader in affordable housing, development, and management in Iowa since 1987 and has taken a housing-first approach with many of its services.
Anawim offers two housing programs in Council Bluffs • Permanent Supportive Housing and Tenant Based Rental Assistance.
Tenant Based Rental Assistance
Through the Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program, qualified applicants can get help to pay down deposits and rent as they work to grow their income. Typically, they take on the full rent amount within two years. A case manager offers support as needed to ensure people ultimately get any assistance needed to eventually live independently. This program currently houses twelve tenants in eight rental units.
Permanent Supportive Housing Program
Anawim collaborates with community partners to support those experiencing homelessness who may have barriers to growing their income. Throughout a person’s time enrolled in the Permanent Supportive Housing Program, Anawim holds the master lease and offers continuous support. “Between the security deposit, the first month’s rent, and the utility deposits, it’s a lot, especially on a fixed income that doesn’t allow for much more than the basics. Being able to transition to being housed is difficult and truly out of reach for so many without assistance.” – Brandi Luther
Many people experience isolation when they move from congregate living to solo living. Anawim addresses each case and has been able to place compatible adults in a unit, which opens up more housing options and removes the fear of isolation for some.
The Permanent Supportive Housing program houses thirteen adults and five children in ten rental units in Council Bluffs.
How does Permanent Supportive Housing work?
Anawim partners with agencies like New Visions and Micah House to identify and house individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. They work alongside other entities in the community to help navigate services and opportunities for those living in any of the permanent supportive housing units.
They work with property owners and managing companies to secure housing locations within the community. Once a person is housed, a program manager will visit the individual at least once a month in their home to offer support and help navigate services.
“It’s not a ‘see you later’ once the person is housed. We’re checking on people as frequently as needed, helping with transportation, doctor’s appointments, or grocery trips.” – Brandi Luther
Property owners and managers have supported this non-traditional agreement, with Anawim holding the master lease as a bridge between the tenant and owner. The Anawim program manager regularly visits, supporting the tenant and helping to quickly address any issues that might arise.
Crowl Property Management’s Amy Crowl Kinney and Kurt Kinney stated they have been happy to rent to Anawim’s Permanent Supportive Housing program. “Anawim goes above and beyond in covering damages that may occur in the unit, managing and collecting the tenant’s portion of the rent, providing follow-up meetings with tenants, and most importantly, teaching life skills that go beyond just paying rent.”
Services are voluntary and move at a comfortable pace for the individual. This approach values flexibility with individualized support. It’s rooted in autonomy and that everyone deserves housing. The impact of choice has been integral to the success of the programming.
“Finding housing assistance in Council Bluffs is very important to many of our clients. They are part of our community and built their lives in this area.” – Brandi Luther
What’s the outcome?
A housing-first approach supports the individual. It puts people at the forefront of the solution and keeps them off the streets and out of shelters with permanent housing.
They can address needs on a comfortable timeline and with the support of a caseworker. The Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program allows people to reach financial stability and provides an opportunity to end generational poverty.
“Seeing people establish new routines and change their lives has been incredible, everything from cooking regular meals to addressing healthcare needs that have been on hold for years.” – Brandi Luther
Iowa West Foundation awarded Anawim a $360,000 grant in 2022 to help offer supportive housing in the community.
Housing, lack of housing, and affordable housing were all concerns heard during the Imagine Hours community listening sessions. The Iowa West Foundation will continue to address housing to help increase financial stability and foster a sense of belonging for the residents in the community.
For more information about Anawim programs or if you know a property manager or owner interested in participating, email Brandi Luther at email@example.com.