DES MOINES, Iowa — While veteran homelessness is on the decline in America, it’s another story for the state of Iowa. According to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s new national estimate released this month, the percentage of homeless vets in the country dropped 5.4 percent since last year. In Iowa it’s increased by 14.6 percent.
The Central Iowa Shelter and Services (CISS) has served over 1,700 homeless people so far this year, 173 of them being veterans. That number is only set to increase with the winter months upon us. One organization is doing their part to reverse the unmet needs of Iowa’s veterans.
“I’ve been here long. I’m kinda like the old guy, you know. I’ve been seeing them coming in and out,” Homeless Veteran Kendall Dennis said.
Dennis is an Army veteran and has been staying at CISS for almost three years. In a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the shelter has 19 studio apartments on the third floor all dedicated to homeless veterans. They are supplemented with resources like case management and job training, but sometimes that’s not enough.
“There’s a lot of guys who don’t have nothing, and I was one of them, and you got nothing,” Dennis said. But thanks to the Iowa Homeless Veterans Program that’s changed.
“All of a sudden you got pans, and you got bowls, and you got towels and stuff, and something to start out with. It’s awesome what they do for us,” Dennis said.
For the past seven years, co-founders John Rains and Susan Hansel donate baskets with household items to CISS to help homeless veterans get back on their feet.
“They are essential items that they can use now in their rooms and take with them when they move on to a more permanent location,” Rains said.
Retired Sergeant Major Rains and Retired Master Sergeant Hansel each served over 20 years for the National Guard. Rains’ son also serves, making these baskets even more meaningful.
“They were at one time willing to stand up and say I do and I will and they did. Some of them paid the ultimate price, but everybody that served was trained to do their job for the defense of our great country,” Rains said.
Sometimes the price that’s paid is coming back to a world that’s not the same, and Dennis says that can be hard.
“It’s a big change for them. I didn’t serve in a battle time, but I’ve talked to so many guys up here that have. I have a first cousin that that was in the Vietnam War and he came back with shrapnel. He never talked about it, but we need to talk about it. Even if it’s just veteran to veteran or whatever, because they can’t even talk to their families.
“Every veteran has a different story as I understand. It’s hard for me to relate to all the stories because I haven’t been there, but to hear their stories and to see them in their environment and then knowing what we all have; it’s all very humbling,” Rains said.
It cost about 90 dollars a basket. This year they raised enough money to make 41 baskets. While that’s a lot, Rains says it isn’t quite enough to supply the shelter year round.