News Service


Paula Dail, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, (515) 294-4564
Michelle Johnson, News Service, (515) 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- A database developed at Iowa State University is giving Iowa a clearer picture of its homeless population.

The Counting Homeless Iowans Project (CHIP) includes a database developed to better count and track homeless people in Iowa. The new technology was developed by Paula Dail, ISU professor of human development and family studies, with technical assistance from Kathy Shelley in ISU's statistics laboratory.

Using a computerized program on disk (or paper version of the same), agencies, shelters and other facilities which serve the homeless enter basic information about their clients. Each month, this information is forwarded to Dail and entered into a database. The computer scans the information when it is received to eliminate any duplication. With this system, the same person may visit several shelters, but will only be counted once. To protect the confidentiality of the homeless, individuals are assigned a code number when information is received.

"There is a push on the Federal level, where much of the homeless assistance monies come from, for each state to provide a more accurate, non-duplicative count of their homeless populations," said Dail. "Guessing is no longer acceptable."

Most states already have a systematic, ongoing means for counting the homeless in a continual, non-duplicative manner, according to Dail.

Approximately 100 of the estimated 400 various Iowa agencies, which provide services for the homeless, are currently submitting information to Dail. In time, she expects to see many more.

"We are essentially assuming the record keeping function for these agencies," said Dail. "This project is similar to a revolving door -- agencies submit information, we analyze it and return it to the agencies upon request so that it can be used in their required state reports. This system enables agencies to greatly reduce their paperwork."

But Dail, who has devoted her research to issues surrounding the homeless, isn't just counting for counting's sake. She hopes that the information provided through the database will lead to a more targeted distribution of state resources where the need is greatest. According to Dail, that is homeless women with children, many of whom are victims of domestic violence. This population appears to be increasing the fastest among the homeless, said Dail.

"This system will provide new and very specific insight into who is experiencing homelessness and why," Dail said. "I expect the same causes for homelessness to be evident across both rural and metro areas of the state."

Those causes include unemployment, family disruptions (which frequently includes domestic violence), a lack of affordable housing, and expensive childcare for single mothers who want to work.

While the database will provide a more thorough count of Iowa's homeless population, Dail said some people are likely to be overlooked, including those living in outdoor areas.

But Dail said the number of homeless overlooked probably isn't that high and, eventually, most will be accounted for. Cold weather usually drives many of the homeless indoors -- even if only briefly for a meal or a shower -- and they will be counted at that time by the facility they use.

CHIP is funded through the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED). For more information on the program, contact Dail at (515) 294-4564 or Steve Deeds at IDED (515) 242-4851.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Paula Dail will be out of town Thurs., Jan. 29 -- Tues., Feb.3. During that time, she can be reached through Michelle Johnson, Iowa State University News Service, (515) 294-8986.

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