Stable homes for Bryn Mawr, Jefferson students

New program gives rental aid to families of homeless students

Bryn Mawr Elementary
The families of three Bryn Mawr Elementary students have been picked to receive direct rental assistance through a new city program. Two other families at the school are receiving other types of housing stability support. Photo by Zac Farber

As the school year ends, Minneapolis officials are busy helping students and their families deal with housing instability and homelessness.

The city’s “Stable Homes, Stable Schools” initiative began enrolling students and families in April. Six families with students at Bryn Mawr Elementary and Jefferson Community School have been picked to receive direct rental assistance through the program. Two other families at Bryn Mawr are receiving other types of housing stability support.

“We’ve been contacted by families we didn’t even know were homeless,” said Giovanna Bocanegra, a social worker at Bryn Mawr Elementary School. “We found out some had doubled up with two or three other families [in their housing situations].”

Charlotte Kinzley, manager of homeless services for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), said families of 175 elementary students citywide have already signed up to receive services.

“I’ve been really excited that the process has gone fairly quickly and efficiently,” she said.

The three-year pilot program is a partnership led by the district, the city, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) and Hennepin County. In Minneapolis, about 7% of all enrolled students were experiencing homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year.

“Food and shelter come before getting to school on time,” Bocanegra said. “If we can connect them to shelter, [families] can focus on education, which is what they really want.”

In the next three years, up to 320 families and 650 Minneapolis students experiencing homelessness will receive direct rental assistance. The program will also provide one-time emergency housing funding to families facing eviction. (Fifteen Minneapolis schools, including Bryn Mawr and Jefferson, were chosen for the pilot program; students must be enrolled at one of the schools for their families to qualify.)

“Getting connected to housing support is like winning the lottery,” Kinzley said. “You’re really lucky if you get connected.”

School social workers serve as an entry point to the program by connecting families with resources. Bocanegra said it has been hard to know how to support these affected families, but this program provides a more direct way to help.

“Housing right now is just so hard,” Bocanegra said. “This gives families another resource, and hopefully it gives our families hope, too.”

The initiative will be funded with $3.35 million from the City of Minneapolis and $1.4 million from MPHA. The Pohlad Family Foundation is contributing $500,000 toward a housing stability fund. The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities will provide readiness services for each family in the program, along with ongoing life coaching and case management services.

During the three years of the pilot program,  the partners will evaluate its success with help from University of Minnesota researchers. Kinzley hopes that the program can eventually expand beyond the pilot program and continue to help families deal with this ongoing issue.

“Housing should be a right,” she said. “When families experience not having access to stable housing, the impact on students is dramatic.”