My Homelessness Video Script

By sethmsparks

Dialogue(conscious thought dialogue)

Good Morning Iowa, welcome to November!

We’re digging in to fall, the holiday season is nearly upon us, and so as we take a break from plowing through the bucket of leftover Halloween candy, it’s a good time for chit-chat

I love Iowa. Were an amazing state, but even great states can always do better at a few things. 

So let’s channel that sugar energy … because its time to talk about something we’d rather not think about, especially this time of year.. homelessness. I know, I know. It’s not fun and it’s complicated, but it’s really important. 

Every individual person has some preconceived opinion about what homelessness is and what creates it, and how to fix… no, how to manage it. But, just, bear with me. Let mash the reset button on those preconceptions, and try to reconstruct how it is we think about homelessness. 

But before I can get into this, we’ve got to look at some definitions because it’s… complicated.


Homelessness is primarily documented by counting persons suffering at a point in time. To capture this, collective data is reported by various sources like shelter/nutrition/etc, on how many folks are trying being served by providers. Homeless individuals are defined in the social services space as being sheltered and unsheltered. But the point in time numbers only include people who are able to be counted. Unfortunately there are always individuals that aren’t able to be counted. 

Another measure, usually of service capacity is the number of “beds” available. Beds are important for understanding overnight occupancy, but in terms of need and movement throughout the shelter system. It lets you compare demand to supply. (You’ve maybe heard “beds” used in the hospitality or healthcare industries, which is pretty appropriate, but I’ll get into that in a minute. Like the fact that we only have 2 psychiatric beds for every 100,000 residents, which places us last in the country, compared to the national average of 12 beds per 100k residents.

The final term to understand, and this one is important, mostly because of money, is the definition of Chronic Homelessness. You see, the federal government has a definition for chronic homelessness so that it can allocate funding to social service organizations. Anyway, to be chronically homeless, and I’m paraphrasing, you must: have a disabling condition AND either have been homeless for the last year or have had four episodes of homelessness in the prior three years.


Types of housing

 • Day Shelters 

 • Emergency Homeless Shelters 

 • Halfway Housing 

 • Permanent Affordable Housing 

 • Drug And Alcohol Rehab

 • Supportive Housing 

 • Shared Housing

 • Rooming House or Boarding House 


Cut scene to location 2

Open letter to homelessness – Why you gotta be so complicated? As humans, we have a hard time fixing complicated things. No no no, not even that, we even have a hard time just grasping the tenets of complicated problems, let alone fixing them. And here you go mixing economics and health and religion and interpersonal relationship into a drudge of confusion. 



OK, we’re done with definitions. Now for some Iowa stats. Here are basic numbers on Iowa that you probably already know:

 – 99 Counties [state map], 

 – 3.2 Million People 

 – and 1.1 Million Families – links to the last census data in the doobly-do (that’s the comments area). 

And then, here are some homeless statistics. According to the 2015 Point In Time assessment (which is done every year the last wed of January), in the state of Iowa we have: 

  • 12,918 individuals who were considered homeless and sough support from some type of organization

  • And 8,174 individuals who were at risk for homelessness and sough support from an organization

   § 21,092 Total

 – Included in those numbers are the 2,424 families made up of 5,800 people; including 3,392 children under the age of 18 years (who were served by shelters, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing.)

So 1.1 million families in Iowa, and 2,400 sought help for being homeless or at risk of it. That’s 0.22% of our population, which is incredibly manageable for a group of people who pride themselves on their “niceness”. But helping them happens one person, and one family at a time. No silver bullets here.

When those individuals receive services, they self report the cause of their situation. Those causes are aggregated into four buckets: 

 • 52% say economics caused their homelessness. 

 • 16% say disability, including mental health or an addiction 

 • 21% report a breakdown in their support network. and

 • 11% respond Jail or other causes

And while they may report one of those causes, a problem with one almost always snowballs into problems with the others. 

So we’re left with a complicated situation, where different forms for homelessness impacting individuals of different cultures, backgrounds, and family composition require different resources and funding. And the way we’ve traditionally handled this, at least in Iowa, is through an amalgamation of funding and service providers (all with noble intentions) that have to operate across a multi-year spectrum moving individuals through a train of housing providers, all the while trying to stabilize each individuals health, employability, income, and most importantly relationships. 

Wait, what? Relationships Seth? Yes. 

The relationship piece of this is really where most homeless starts and end. Most people have a certain aptitude in life and relationship skills, so that when economic or other troubles arise, they’re able to find social support through friends and family. When extraneous factors limit someone’s ability to turn to those individuals (maybe drugs or crime or plain old struggle with human courtesy), they’re left to find a way through the system we’ve established. And then, if they struggle with that, the slide from short term, to long term, to chronic homelessness happens. And the further someone wanders into the maze, the more difficult and most costly it is to help them back out. And all of that doesn’t even touch on the psychological consequences of being homeless, being both internally against yourself and stereotyped by others.

That’s a lot to take in. But the reason I wanted to do this video was to illustrate that even though the situation seems limited (20k people out of more than 3 million), it’s incredibly complicated for each individual facing homelessness, both in the personal obstacles they have to overcome, but also in the system that we’ve designed. But just because it’s challenging, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If you’re interested in making a contribution, volunteering time or clothing or food items, I’m putting a list of links below for you check out.


A lot of this got edited out, but here’s the video if you want to watch: