Homelessness in Minnesota

There was an article in the paper recently (StarTribune, March 21, 2019) that tells us that the point-in-time homeless count in Minnesota shows that homelessness has increased by 10%. Family homelessness has decreased by 5%, but overall there were more people homeless in Minnesota on October 25th of 2018 than in previous years. The one-night homelessness count done by Wilder Research found there were 10,233 people who are homeless; 3,265 are children with parents. The article took me by surprise because I know how hard people have been working on this issue. The new Dorothy Day Center opened recently with many more beds. Millions of dollars have been spent to try to alleviate this problem. And yet, it continues to grow.

Two years ago, I heard from the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless that we had pretty much eradicated veteran homelessness. I know many people in our state focused on this population. But in the above Star Tribune article, people sounded hopeful because Governor Walz is talking about ending veteran homelessness. The Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless said, “People should be alarmed and know that it is solvable.”

Do we have the solutions? Do we know how to do this? If we do, why hasn’t it been solved by very focused, smart people in the past 15 years? Who is benefiting by the continuation of this problem in our state? Is it so complex, we haven’t found the right combination of solutions? Hennepin County completed the 100 Day Challenge to end youth homelessness. The number of homeless youth decreased during the 100 days by connecting youth back to families or other permanent support systems in their lives. After the 100 days were done, the political will was gone for continuing that work even though it markedly decreased homelessness for youth.

We know some of the causes contributing to homelessness. High rents and low-vacancy rates for apartments are a problem. Wages have not kept up with rental prices. How do we get property owners to be reasonable about their rates and give people wages at a level where they can afford an apartment?

We also know that mental illness and substance abuse contribute to the homeless population. During the encampment in Minneapolis, the drug problems in the homeless community were rampant. Are we creating enough mental health and treatment facilities for substance abuse? Do we have enough treatment facilities where children can stay with their parents?

Our leaders need to pay attention to the gaps they have been trying to ignore for many years. Until the underlying problems are solved – wages that keep up with the real cost of living, more affordable housing, and more mental health & treatment facilities available for people in Minnesota – this problem will continue to get worse. Millions of dollars have been put into action to help with this issue, mostly for housing, and it is getting worse. Where is the multi-pronged approach with good data so we know how to solve this problem? What are the personalized responses that communities can unleash to meet their vulnerable citizens where they are and move them forward in a healthy way?

The City of Minneapolis and the Pohlad Family Foundation are working together to focus on families with school-aged children who are homeless. The data shows that homelessness is contributing to the achievement gap that is also a persistent problem in Minnesota. The Stable Homes, Stable Schools initiative hopes to increase affordable housing options in the city. If successful, this initiative will have shown us that the problems of homelessness and the achievement gap in our state are, in fact, solvable. I am hopeful that this initiative leads us to great success.

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