Taking stock of the fight to end homelessness

As the Director of the Office to End Homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County, I will now be a regular columnist for the Journal. I am grateful and heartened that homelessness is a topic that this community wants to know more about. Through this column I hope to provide updates on the latest efforts, stories from the streets, and ways for you, the reader, to become more engaged.  

In 2006, the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County came together with hundreds of community partners to create a 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness called Heading Home Hennepin (headinghomehennepin.org). With this plan, we joined a national movement to end, rather than manage, homelessness for men, women, children and youth. We declared that homelessness is not an inevitable urban problem, but rather something we know how to solve. The City Council and County Board approved the plan and in 2007 we began to implement it.

There is no doubt that these have been extremely difficult economic times. The need for assistance with housing has risen dramatically. People who never believed they could become homeless are finding themselves on the edge. Jobs are scarce and inadequate to afford housing.  

This column will highlight the truly remarkable and successful work that has gone on in our community over the past four years, despite these challenges. In all my years working on this issue, I have never before seen the kind of coordination and collaboration that is now taking place. Hundreds of nonprofits, faith community members, concerned citizens, government partners, and businesses are engaged in the work of implementing the plan to end homelessness.  

The intent of this column is to both update the community on “where we are now” in our efforts to eliminate homelessness and to ask for your help. In the past four years, we have increased prevention efforts, keeping more people in their housing and improving the ways people are discharged from foster care, corrections and the Hennepin County Medical Center.  

With our dedicated street outreach team, we have moved away from a criminal justice response to people living outside to a social service and housing response, resulting in a reduction in public costs and an improvement in community livability. We have assisted thousands of individuals and families into permanent housing, including those who have been homeless for many years. We have increased access to and efficiency of services through our Project Homeless Connect community events and now the development of two new “one-stop-shop” Opportunity Centers. We have improved the coordination of public and private systems to ensure that we are improving outcomes for people. And, finally, we have leveraged more private, state, and federal resources to do our work at the local level.

This is not a question of can we end homelessness. We are proving we can. This is a question of will we end homelessness. That is a question of political and community will.  When we have enough will to take what we know works to scale, then we will have a community without thousands of homeless children in our schools each year, without people panhandling to meet basic needs or self-medicate, without our elders sleeping on thin mats on the floors of overcrowded shelters, and without Iraq vets fighting to survive on Minneapolis streets.  

Ways to get involved  

With your help, we will end homelessness. There are many ways to 

join the effort:

Give your time.  

Volunteer at a shelter or housing organization.  Go to handsontwincities.org to find a listing of organizations working to end homelessness.

Volunteer at Project Homeless Connect (homelessconnectminneapolis.org), our community’s one-stop-shop service event for people who are experiencing homelessness.  Next event: Monday, Dec. 13 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

Give your voice.

Ending homelessness is a non-partisan effort.  Let your representatives know at every level of government that this issue is important to you and that ending homelessness is good public policy.

Give generously.

Donate to organizations working to end homelessness.

For more information go to headinghomehennepin.org or e-mail me at cathy.ten.broeke@co.hennepin.mn.us