Number of homeless in state trending downward

A sign outside People Serving People, a homeless shelter serving families downtown, reads: "Homeless: There are some words kids should never know." Credit: File photo
A sign outside People Serving People, a homeless shelter serving families downtown, reads: "Homeless: There are some words kids should never know." Credit: File photo

Homelessness in Minnesota is on the decline, according to a new report from the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The most recent point-in-time count tracking homelessness across the state shows a 10 percent decline in 2015 compared to 2014 — the first time the number has dropped since 2011.

The point-in-time count taken Jan. 22, 2015 identified 7,509 homeless people in Minnesota.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said the numbers indicate new investments and strategies aimed at preventing and ending homelessness show promise.

“Everyone in Minnesota deserves a safe place to live,” she said. “With this goal in mind, we have invested our time and money in new ways, and we are getting results. I’m proud of the progress, but we aren’t done, and we won’t stop until every Minnesotan has a safe place to call home.”

The overall decrease in the state’s homelessness rate was driven by a significant drop in homelessness among families, according to the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness. The number of homeless families identified during the point-in-time count dropped 17 percent this year compared to 2014 — from 4,725 families in 2014 to 3,912 families in 2015.

Homelessness among veterans also continues to drop. Overall, the number of homeless vets in the state has decreased 50 percent since 2010. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homeless Veteran Registry tracks the number of homeless vets and follows up with those in need who call for assistance.

Cathy ten Broeke, the state’s Director to Prevent and End Homelessness, said the numbers are encouraging.

“We have much work to do to ensure that all Minnesotans have stable housing, but today fewer of our neighbors are living on our streets and fewer families with children are homeless in our state, which is so important given the devastating impact that homelessness has for young people,” she said.

In December 2014, the Southwest Journal published a special report, “Homeless with Homework,” tracking the impact of homelessness on children in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).

During the 2013-14 school year, MPS counted 6,840 children who stayed in one of the city’s homeless shelters at one point during the school year. Of that number, 3,983 were enrolled in a Minneapolis Public School.

The 2015 point-in-time count did also identify areas in need of more attention from state leaders.

The number of people living outside, in a car or other place not meant for habitation jumped 6 percent this year with 842 people in that category.

The count also tracked 942 homeless youth under the age of 25 living without a parent or guardian.

People experiencing chronic homelessness also increased 27 percent this year — up from 885 people in 2014 to 1,124 people in 2015.

The Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness released a plan in 2013 identifying 12 strategies for better aligning the work of government, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations working on ending homelessness.

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency has also awarded $425 million to developers to help pay for or preserve 15,000 units of affordable housing across the state.

In Hennepin County, homelessness is also on decline. The county has the most homeless shelters in the state.

Mikkel Beckmen, director of the joint city-county Office to End Homelessness, said the latest count of people in public and private homeless shelters in the county tracked 2,072 people — down from 2,399 people a year ago. The number of families staying in shelters decreased from 336 to 273 in the same period.

“We’re seeing quite a drop,” Beckmen said.

He attributes the decline to a variety of factors — an improving economy, procedural changes designed to incentivize people to leave shelters and a new pilot program helping prevent homelessness among families who have left shelters.

Most of the families who end up at shelters in the county rely on household incomes of $8,000 to $15,000 a year, he said.

The pilot program aimed at preventing homelessness from reoccurring in families who have spent time in shelters has helped connect families in crisis mode with resources to keep them in their homes.

The Office to End Homelessness is also focused on finding ways to match people with career-building opportunities and other tools to boost their income-earning potential.

The county also has a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of the year, he said.

Beckmen said another top priority has been making sure that anyone who ends up in a shelter in Hennepin County is quickly assessed to determine housing and other needs. People are then placed on one waiting list for housing opportunities.

“The goal is to make the stays very short so we don’t have people lingering in shelter anymore,” he said.

The City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have been working on a vision to end homelessness in the county called Heading Home Hennepin since 2006.

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FYI …
To learn more, about statewide efforts to end homelessness, go to www.headinghomeminnesota.org. To learn more about Heading Home Hennepin, go to www.hennepin.headinghomeminnesota.org