Shelters across Iowa are taking different approaches to try and ensure the homeless people they serve are able to get a good night’s sleep and not just food and shelter.

In Iowa City, Shelter House is obtaining 75 mattresses at a cost of $40,000, with the help of a grant.

“The mattresses for our emergency shelter are 9-plus years old,” says Mark Sertterh, executive director of the shelter, which served 930 people in 2018. “They have endured heavy use, and are uncomfortable.  Shelters are difficult places to sleep in by nature (dorm style), but having old mattresses really contributes to potentially poor sleep hygiene.”

Iowa’s largest emergency homeless shelter, the Central Iowa Shelter and Services in Des Moines, handles its mattress needs by purchasing at least 25 of them every quarter, says Melissa Gradischnig, volunteer and donation coordinator.

The Central Iowa Shelter, which served 2,323 people in 2019, is able to buy the mattresses at a discounted rate of $51 per mattress from the Iowa Prison Industry.

And in Mason City, the Northern Lights Alliance for the Homeless works with corporations including Serta, Slumberland and MyPillow, as well as the Mason City Fire Department to receive donated mattresses. As a result, the shelter doesn’t need to spend from the general fund to address sleep needs for the eight-county area it serves.

Local churches also sew quilts for every new and departing client, says director Jeannie Kingery.

She describes mattress quality as an aspect of homeless services that “the general public doesn’t even think about.” But good sleep hygiene is important for everyone, especially people experiencing homelessness or who are in some form of transition.

“Staying and trying to sleep in an emergency shelter is hard,” agrees Setterh. “There are multiple people in the same room, and they are all suffering from some sort of trauma.  Having a mattress that isn’t ripped or having springs that are poking into you goes a long way in getting quality sleep.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep a day to improve your well-being, fitness, and productivity; fight off infection; maintain a healthy weight; and avoid chronic disease.

For information on how to fund a new mattress, or to volunteer or help in another way, here are some of Iowa’s key shelters:

Crittenton Center: (712) 252-8262,  3901 Green Ave, Sioux City

Shelter House: (319) 351-0326, 429 Southgate, Iowa City

Central Iowa Shelter and Services:  (515) 284-5719, 1420 Mulberry Street, Des Moines

Muscatine Center for Social Action:  (563) 264-3278, 312 Iowa Ave, Muscatine

Northern Lights Alliance  Shelter for the Homeless, (641) 380-0047, 307 N. Monroe Ave, Mason City