Kelly Huntsman Has the Floor

Celebrating One Year of Connecting Homeless with Homes

Kelly Huntsman Has the Floor

A refugee family makes the 1,200 miles drive from Utah to Iowa to be near people from their home country of Ethiopia. The mother, father and three children spend their first night in Des Moines sleeping in their car. By the third night they have housing. A few weeks later, their oldest son is enrolled in an area high school. Several months later, their youngest child’s health issues have been resolved. Today, the family is happy and proud to call Des Moines home. This is just one of the 336 stories Primary Health Care will celebrate this month as we mark the first anniversary of our Centralized Intake system. 

Working in collaboration with 15 homeless service providers, Centralized Intake reduces the number of steps required for individuals and families to secure stable and permanent housing in Des Moines by connecting them to the right resources in the most timely and efficient manner. A core component of that system is the Housing Navigator program, which is funded in part by Polk County Housing Trust Fund. This program connects people at risk of homelessness with area landlords.

Helping those in need of finding affordable housing is nothing new for Primary Health Care. In 2013, Primary Health Care stepped forward to help more than 80 low-income residents displaced with the closing of the Hotel Randolph in downtown Des Moines find alternative housing in the community. We accomplished this task in 80 days thanks to the support of several other organizations, a hard-working staff and numerous area landlords who provided housing for these individuals.

Throughout that experience, we became more aware of the barriers at-risk people face when securing housing. Many had background issues, poor or no credit ratings and inconsistent housing history. The experience also gave us a better understanding of the needs and concerns of landlords. That’s why the Housing Navigator program provides case management services for three months after housing, checking in with landlords to ensure that rent is paid and with individuals to make sure they are finding the help they need in the community.

Why is a nonprofit community health center dedicated to serving the medically insured, uninsured and underinsured with the health care needs involved in housing? Quite simply, Primary Health Care believes that housing is part of a comprehensive approach to health care. According to our Housing Navigator case managers, once in stable housing people are more likely to take better care of themselves and their families and connect with the community. That’s a win-win situation for all.

Looking ahead to 2016, we have set an ambitious goal of placing 450 individuals and/or families in stable housing. We are fortunate to have the connections with other area organizations, through Centralized Intake, to help make this happen. We are blessed with a staff of caring and committed professionals who are dedicated to constantly reaching out to homeless people and others in need of housing. We are thankful for area landlords who continue to be responsive to our requests. We are grateful for the continued support of Polk County Housing Trust Fund to maintain the Housing Navigator program. However, there is a real need to increase the inventory of affordable housing in Polk County to meet the need of people at risk of homelessness. Working together, we can make that happen, too.

Kelly Huntsman is the Executive Director of Primary Health Care, a nonprofit community health center dedicated to serving the medically insured, uninsured and underinsured in Des Moines, Ames, and Marshalltown.