Shelter Begins Construction On "Radical" Housing Development For Chronically Homeless Individuals

Apr 5, 2018

An Iowa City nonprofit is starting construction on a new kind of housing development for those experiencing chronic homelessness. The unit is thought to be the only one in the state to use the “housing first" model. 

A rendering of a housing first development to be built by the Shelter House in Iowa City.
Credit The Shelter House via facebook /

Most of the clients at the Shelter House in Iowa City are experiencing a one-time homelessness event. With a temporary stay and the right kind of support, they can be back into a home relatively quickly. 

But for those experiencing chronic homelessness, characterized by a higher number of homeless episodes as well as a diagnosed disability, it can be very difficult to regain stability. Shelter House Executive Director Crissy Canganelli says some become "familiar faces", cycling between emergency rooms, temporary shelters and jails. In Iowa City this cycle costs on average $140,000 per person per year.

“All for them to not really move forward in their lives, but to continue through this cycle, a crisis-driven cycle, no particular order, and each time ending up back on the streets of our community, sicker than the time before,” she said.

The idea behind the housing first approach is the cheapest and most effective way to break the cycle of chronic homelessness is to give people permanent housing, without conditions like employment or sobriety. And there's research to back it up. This approach is in contrast to many housing models for those experiencing homelessness, which can require participation in certain programs in order to get a room. 

Canganelli says this shift towards housing first sounds deceptively simple, but is actually a paradigm shift.

"Housing is a right," she said. "It is not a privilege."

The Cross Park Place development will house 24 one-bedroom apartments, complete with kitchens, as well as an in-house clinic and voluntary support programs, like case managers and behavioral health counselors.

Canganelli says this permanent supportive housing model can help enable individuals to begin addressing the issues that kept them on the street or in encampments. 

“The stability and the security of your own home, having that foundation to work off of is such a stabilizing element that…the impact in all areas of a person’s life…it’s profound,” Canganelli said.

The housing first development is slated to open by the end of the year.