City, county join forces to end homelessness in 10 years

New commission hopes to have plan finalized by July 12

It's a lofty goal, but city and county leaders are working on a plan to end homelessness in 10 years - and they're determined that it can be done.

The goal is the focus of the new City-County Commission to End Homelessness, a coalition that will bring Minneapolis and Hennepin County leaders together with philanthropists, business leaders, faith communities and others in a charge to end homelessness in just a decade.

The commission met for the first time March 29 and is working on a plan outlining how it will achieve this goal. The hope is to have the plan finalized and approved by July 12.

Cathy ten Broeke, the city-county coordinator to end homelessness, said ending homelessness is a realistic goal.

&#8220When we talk about ending homelessness, I don't think we mean that nobody ever again will potentially fall into the situation of homelessness. What we're talking about is that we will have a completely different response if they do, focusing on rapidly re-housing people when they become homeless. It also means that we are going to prevent homelessness whenever possible,” ten Broeke said. &#8220If we do that, I really believe we can end homelessness as we know it.”

On any given night, Hennepin County shelters about 2,400 homeless men, women and children, ten Broeke said. An additional 400 people sleep on the streets each night.

Those figures are largely the driving force behind the 70-member commission. At its first meeting, the commission heard from several local homeless people and listened to what they want to see the group work on.

&#8220They mostly told their own stories, which I think was extremely powerful,” ten Broeke said. &#8220They told us to be innovative, and we will be.”

The key ingredients to prevent and end homelessness will include supportive housing wherein residents have assistance with employment, mental health and chemical dependency programs, and prevention programs such as Hennepin County's Rapid Exit program, which assists families with multiple housing barriers in finding and staying in housing. Ten Broeke also said a strong plan will be essential, and it will take a lot of commitment from a number of community groups to make everything work.

She pointed to programs in Philadelphia - which reduced the number of people sleeping outside from 800 in 2001 to 200 in 2005 - as an example Minneapolis and Hennepin County can follow.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, host of the commission, said leaders are tired of simply managing homelessness. This plan is about doing something to actually end the problem.

&#8220We're going to end it. That's our challenge,” Rybak said.

As the commission works on getting goals and priorities set into its plan, ten Broeke said it also has a subcommittee that will look at the issue of financing programs and initiatives. While the plan will take money, dealing with homelessness itself is costly for the city and county, ten Broeke said. Police time, emergency room services and detox centers are just some of the resources homelessness drains.

&#8220We spend all this money, and in the end we really haven't reduced homelessness,” ten Broeke said. &#8220We might as well spend money on what will actually work.”

Leaders of the plan emphasize that it is not a study. It will serve as a blueprint for community members to actually take action.

&#8220We don't need to study the issue of homelessness. We've done that,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, co-chair of the Commission to End Homelessness. &#8220This is about putting into action what we know will work to end homelessness for families, individuals and youth.”