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Statistics & FAQs

What does homelessness look like in Polk County and in Iowa?

While circumstances can vary, the main reason people experience homelessness is because they cannot find affordable housing. It is the scarcity of affordable housing in the United States, particularly in more urban areas where homelessness is more prevalent, that is behind their inability to acquire or maintain housing.

By the numbers in our nation, state, and county

In January 2016, 549,928 people were homeless on a given night in the United States.

  • Iowa, Outside of Des Moines:  1,923 
  • Polk County:  793 or a decrease of 5% from 2015

Of that number, 194,716 were people in families, and 355,212 were individuals.

  • Iowa, Outside of Des Moines:  1,101 were families with adults and children and 803 were individuals.  
  • Polk County:  235 were families with adults and children and 557 were individuals.  

About 21.8 percent of the homeless population - 77,486 - are considered "chronically homeless” individuals.

  • Iowa, Outside of Des Moines:  83 or 4.3%   
  • Polk County:  66 or 8.3%

About 4.4 percent - 8,646 - are considered "chronically homeless” people in families.

  • Iowa, Outside of Des Moines:  8 families or 14 people
  • Polk County:  3 people in families

About 7.2 percent of homeless people- 39,471 - are veterans.

  • Iowa, Outside of Des Moines:  3 people
  • Polk County:  5 people

These numbers come from Point-in-Time Counts, which are conducted, community by community, on a single night in January every other year. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities to submit this data every other year in order to qualify for federal homeless assistance funds. Many communities conduct counts more regularly.

The most recent data from HUD can be found in the agency's 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congresss.

Persons with hearing or speech impairments may obtain copies of these materials via TTY by calling 1-800-735-2942. Persons who do not speak English as their primary language and who have limited ability to speak, write or understand English may obtain copies of theses materials by calling Angie Arthur at (515) 282-3233 or emailing her at