Commission to End Homelessness ends first 100 days with plan in hand

Just 100 days after they rolled up their sleeves and began working on a plan to end homelessness in Hennepin County within 10 years, a group of city and county officials have a 79-page report that details how they'll get the job done.

What they don't have is an estimated $45 million needed to round out the $147 million plan. A number of the project's strategies will be funded with more than $102 million in existing and projected resources from federal, state, county, city, private and philanthropic sources. But millions of dollars in additional funding will need to be secured to implement the plan's strategies to improve prevention, outreach, housing opportunities, service delivery, self-support and systems.

&#8220All of us have to wrestle with the funding part of this. It's a big gulp,” Mayor R.T. Rybak told commission members at the group's July 12 meeting.

&#8220We gave you a ridiculous timeline,” Rybak said. &#8220You came back with a ridiculously good plan.”

That meeting was the last for the commission, which was formed to bring Minneapolis and Hennepin County leaders together with philanthropists, business leaders, faith communities, social service organizations and others to form a working plan in less than four months. The plan will be open to public comment beginning Aug. 1 and is scheduled for full implementation in January 2007, said Cathy ten Broeke, the city-county coordinator to end homelessness.

The plan includes six broad goals, 30 recommendations and 50 action steps. The six major goals are to:

- prevent homelessness;

- provide coordinated outreach;

- develop housing opportunities;

- improve service delivery;

- implement system improvements; and

- build capacity for self-support.

The recommendations include things such as adopting a zero-tolerance policy for discharging people from public systems into homelessness and increasing the number of youth outreach workers to suburban-area-alternative schools. Examples of action steps for those two recommendations include improving discharge plans for youth exiting foster care and creating four new suburban youth outreach teams.

While the plan is extensive, Commission Co-chair and Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman admitted that there are likely gaps in the plan and things that didn't get addressed. That, she said, is why there will be an opportunity for feedback and improvement.

&#8220In the end, this needs to be more than a report. It's a working document to guide our work on ending homelessness,” Dorfman said.

Mike Ciresi, commission co-chair and leader of the group that set out to examine funding for the plan, said the organization will have to wisely use the scarce resources at its fingertips to implement the plan.

And using what resources are available to end homelessness rather than simply manage it could save a significant amount of money in the long run. The commission's report cited several examples of the cost-effectiveness of ending homelessness. For example, according to the report, experts in Denver found that providing housing and support services for a chronically homeless person costs about one-third of the cost of providing emergency services to a person living in the street.

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

Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at kvanderveen@mnpubs.com and 436-4373.