Wilder study: Homelessness is down from 2012

Homelessness is trending downward in Minnesota for the first time since 2006, according to a new Wilder Research study.

Wilder counted 9,312 people experiencing homelessness on Oct. 22, 2015 — down 9 percent from 2012 — for the single-night study. Wilder Research conducts the count every three years.

Still, the number of homeless in Minnesota is up considerably since 1991 when Wilder counted 3,079 people.

Study co-director Michelle Gerrard said the latest findings are “encouraging” and suggest the state’s work to prevent and end homelessness is showing promise.

“But we have still not shaken the impact of the last decade’s Great Recession on this population,” she said.

Wilder counted people staying in shelters, transitional housing, encampments and drop-in service locations.

Children and youth continue to make up more than half of Minnesota’s homeless population. Wilder counted 3,296 children in October, down 7 percent from 2012. Researchers counted 1,542 families — a decrease of 12 percent from the previous study.

Researchers also say that the count underestimates the total number of homeless in the state since many people don’t stay in the shelter system, such as teens who often coach hop when experiencing homelessness.

Advocates for the homeless met with lawmakers at the state Capitol on March 15 to lobby for additional funding for affordable housing.

A statewide coalition called Homes for All is seeking $130 million in bonds to develop new affordable homeownership opportunities, preserve rental housing for people living in federally subsidized units, build and preserve supportive housing and rehabilitate public housing.

About 600,000 Minnesota households pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing — a level considered unaffordable. That figure is up 69 percent since 2000, according to the Homes for All coalition.

In Minneapolis, homelessness hits children and youth especially hard. Over 11,6000 public school students were identified as homeless at some point during the last school year, according to the coalition. Students experiencing homelessness face many challenges in school and often underperform academically.

Monica Nilsson, director of community engagement for South Minneapolis-based St. Stephen’s Human Services, was among more than 600 people who participated in the lobbying day March 15. She said met with legislators to press for $130 million in bonding for affordable housing, a $100 monthly increase for people enrolled in the state’s Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) and a restoration of voting rates for felons who have served their time in the state.

She noted that a parent with one child receives $437 per month in cash assistance as part of MFIP — the same amount people received in 1986. Since then the cost of housing has doubled. Many people also rely on the program when they lose jobs and aren’t eligible for the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Nilsson said that the Wilder study indicates that investments in housing and other programs serving low-income people can make an impact.

“When we have the political will, we do have the ability to decrease homelessness,” she said.