In some ways, 2020 has been a year of shining a light on problems that had been there all along but hadn’t been addressed properly. One place we’ve seen this is with the issues of housing and homelessness, which became especially visible as encampments popped up around the city.
In Minneapolis, the lack of affordable housing has been a growing problem. About 44% of renters live in housing that’s not affordable to them and 6.2% of students of Minneapolis Public Schools experience homelessness, according to a September report from HousingLink. Meanwhile, research- ers from the Wilder Foundation found that homelessness increased 10% between 2015 and 2018 around the state.
Right now, COVID-19 has made things even harder for people who don’t have a safety net. For those looking to help, here is a list of nonprofits that are providing aid to folks who are either at risk of becoming homeless or working to find stable housing.
One initiative to address the homelessness crisis came from Avivo. With the financial support from CARES Act funding, Avivo plans to build “Indoor Villages” as a form of temporary indoor shelter for unhoused people.
It’s an endeavor that continues what Avivo has already been doing in connection with the growing encampments in Minneapolis. Previously, the organization paid for hotel rooms for people who had been staying in encampments, both during the Minneapolis uprising in the spring and later in the year. Avivo has been at the front line working with unhoused people as they transition away from encampments into hotel rooms and more permanent housing solutions.
The organization has been around since the 1960s and was formerly called Resource. It works with people who face homelessness and is dedicated to addressing addiction, mental health struggles, racism, poverty and more. Avivo also does job training, chemical and mental health services, career education and employment services around the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.
People Serving People puts authentic community engagement at the center of its work. Its guest advisory council brings residents to the table in order to share their stories, offer feedback and explore leadership opportunities like planning social events for families. The organization has also been engaged in addressing homelessness through its crisis response and emergency shelter.
Since it began in the late 1980s, the Minnesota Housing Partnership has been a robust force in the fight for fair housing in Minnesota. With its research around housing and homelessness, grants and technical support for housing development groups, advocacy for the unhoused, and tools and training for nonprofit organizations working on housing issues, MHP aims to provide more housing opportunities for those who need it most.
In addition, MHP has acted as an advocacy organization, pushing for better federal and state policies that address the increasingly dire housing needs of Minnesotans during the pandemic.
Avenues for Youth focuses on young people ages 16-24 in Hennepin County who either need a place to stay for one night or need long-term housing. The organization offers support and mentorship, as well as health and wellness services for the young people in their programs. It has a specific outreach program for Black youth, Indigenous youth and youth of color and another program, ConneQT, that houses queer and trans youth in host homes. Avenues for Youth also has a program for young parents, working directly with landlords to help supplement rent for people under 24 who have children.
St. Stephens runs two year-round emergency shelters and conducts street outreach throughout Hennepin County. The organization’s outreach workers help people navigate out of crisis and toward stable housing.
COVID-19 presented unique challenges to the street team this year, as outreach workers had to maintain social distancing while reaching out to people without homes. They were part of a large public health response to the encampments around the city, with a focus on providing information to people staying in the tents, making sure they had access to meal sites and other resources.
Since 200 unsheltered people were evicted from the Sheraton Minneapolis Midtown Hotel, Zacah has been working closely with the Minneapolis Sanctuary Movement, playing a key role in emergency response to the growing housing crisis in Minneapolis. Zacah was one of the organizations advocating for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to allow unhoused people to camp in city parks.
Zacah gets its name from the Muslim term “Zakat,” which means “that which purifies.” The idea is for people of the Muslim faith to purify their wealth by donating a portion of it to their communities. In addition to the work the organization has been doing with the Sanctuary Movement, Zacah also provides emergency financial assistance and runs a three-bedroom transitional home for women in crisis, providing housing for three months as they work toward independent living.
HOME Line runs a legal help hotline and provides free and low-cost legal advice, in addition to its work in organizing, education and advocacy. HOME Line has been especially important during the pandemic, offering webinars for renters that help explain the eviction moratoriums and policy changes that have been passed since March.
HOME Line also has a number of form letters available on its website — for things like security deposits, privacy violation and repair requests — that are helpful to renters whose landlords are violating state statutes. Additionally, HOME Line offers support for tenants interested in organizing a tenant’s association and does other organizing work around issues such as Section 8 housing.
Simpson runs an emergency overnight shelter for adults, as well as a number of temporary housing options for individuals, families and youth. The organization is also invested in tutoring and mentorship programs for youth, taking a dual approach of both family support and children’s programming.
CommonBond Communities starts with the premise that everyone deserves to have a safe place to live. For nearly 50 years, the organization has been committed to creating affordable housing in the Twin Cities, and throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. In total, CommonBond operates 7,000 rental townhomes across 60 cities, in addition to their advocacy for more equitable housing policy at the state and federal levels.