A pledge to end homelessness

The New Year’s Resolution of The Office to End Homelessness:

In 2012, we resolve to end homelessness for the 190 seniors (62 and older) who slept in shelters or on the streets in 2011, develop an even stronger collaboration to ensure children and youth who are homeless have the support they need to succeed, kick off the Downtown Business Community’s goal of ending street homelessness with a significant reduction in street homelessness and panhandling downtown, and continue to gather new partners and resources to this collective work.

I come into this New Year with great enthusiasm and energy for our initiative to end homelessness. People not directly involved with the initiative often remark that they can’t understand my optimism in these times of reduced budgets, increasingly partisan politics, high levels of unemployment, and, once again, rising numbers of foreclosures.  It is true, 2011 was a tough year, especially when you add a major tornado in North Minneapolis, the state government shutdown and ending the year with the lowest apartment vacancy rate in a decade, at an alarming 1.5 percent.  

Despite these immense challenges, hundreds of people working to end homelessness every day in our community did not stop. They worked harder. They worked smarter.  And, in ways large and small, they were remarkably successful.

Here are just a few highlights from 2011:

• Our Street Outreach and Housing team, run by St. Stephen’s Human Services, housed their 350th person directly from the streets.  The average length of homelessness among this group: eight years.

• A national award winning collaboration between our outreach and housing teams, the Downtown Improvement District, the Minneapolis Police Department, probation officers, and the city and county attorneys’ offices ended homelessness for dozens of chronic livability offenders downtown and reduced re-offenses by 74 percent.

• The partnership created between the Downtown Business Council and the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness ended homelessness of more than 150 people with disabilities sleeping in overcrowded shelters downtown. Eighty-seven percent of these individuals have stayed in their housing for at least one year, and some have moved on for better opportunities. This partnership has expanded and is now targeting seniors and other highly vulnerable adults both in shelters and on the streets.

• Through a partnership with the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, Hennepin County’s Veterans’ Services Office and many nonprofit partners, we collectively reduced homelessness among veterans in Hennepin County.  The key to this success was the investment of the federal government in Section 8 housing vouchers for these chronically homeless vets and the targeting and coordination of these resources at the local level. Because of this investment in the solution to homelessness, the nation reduced vets homelessness by 12 percent between 2010 and 2011, and we reduced it by 33 percent in Hennepin County. This is proof that when multiple partners focus collectively on a solution, we get results.

• In 2011, we held two one-stop-shop Project Homeless Connect events at the Minneapolis Convention Center, bringing together more than 400 service providers and more than 1,000 community volunteers at each event. Many of our volunteers came from downtown businesses, such as Target, Wells Fargo, Faegre and Benson, Ameriprise, Thrivent, Thompson Reuters and US Bank, as well as faith communities and neighborhoods throughout Hennepin County. Together we assisted more than 3,000 people experiencing homelessness with medical care, legal assistance, employment, housing, state IDs, birth certificates and more.

• Based on the success of Project Homeless Connect, two one-stop Opportunity Centers were launched in 2011, one run by YouthLink for youth, the other by Catholic Charities for adults. Working collaboratively, they have been able to have a much more dramatic impact on people’s lives, increasing access and effectiveness of services delivered. The stories are inspiring — 60 youth who had dropped out of school re-enrolled, 168 youth were connected to housing, 67 homeless adults connected to employment and 163 homeless adults connected to housing.  

As we begin this New Year, I thank all of you who have read this column over the year and responded by investing your time, your resources or your voice to this effort. Please go to www.myhomelessnessresolution.tumblr.com to see what others are resolving to do to end homelessness this year.

Cathy ten Broeke is the director of the Minneapolis/Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness.