Street homelessness has dropped significantly

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March 26, 2012
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Despite some successes on efforts to end homelessness by 2016, major challenges remain

Street homelessness in Hennepin County has dropped 40 percent since 2010, according to a new report presented to the City Council on March 7.

The number of homeless people on the streets was 204 in January of this year — down from 341 people counted during the same period in 2010, according to the report by Cathy ten Broeke, the coordinator to end homelessness for the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County.

She presented a five-year report taking stock of Heading Home Hennepin, an initiative launched in 2006 by a commission of local leaders in a variety of fields, homeless people and formerly homeless citizens. The group drafted a 10-year plan that calls for ending homelessness in the county by 2016.

The drop in street homelessness has been a byproduct of an increase in outreach workers on the streets helping homeless people find access to housing. The St. Stephen’s outreach team has found housing for more than 350 people since the fall of 2007, according to the Heading Home Hennepin report.

As the number of people living on the streets has decreased in Minneapolis, livability crime — nuisance crimes like panhandling and public urination — has also declined.

Despite making strides in some areas, serious challenges remain in the ongoing effort to end homelessness in Hennepin County. The big one, of course, has been the recession. The low rental vacancy rate, slow development of affordable housing, lack of job opportunities and end of federal stimulus dollars this year were also identified as obstacles in the Heading Home Hennepin report.

“The big picture take is that homelessness overall has risen since 2006,” ten Broeke said. “We have lots of new people coming into shelters. We believe that is directly related to the economy and as the economy improves, the numbers coming in should slow. For example, there are seven new people on Currie Avenue every night. Our prevention efforts have prevented a much larger crisis, but numbers, particularly in the family shelter are concerning.”

Other highlights from the report include:

Between 2007 and 2011, 2,433 new housing opportunities were developed for people experiencing homelessness.

More than 3,000 households were provided with assistance to prevent them from becoming homeless between 2009 and 2011.

Homelessness among veterans has dropped 33 percent through a partnership between the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center on a new supportive housing program.

The Currie Avenue Partnership — a collaboration among business, faith, government and nonprofit leaders — has raised more than $700,000 to house hundreds of people with disabilities.

More than $200,000 was raised to help 200 households impacted by the North Minneapolis tornado secure short-term rental subsidies.

Two opportunity centers have opened — one for youth and one for single adults. The centers bring together several agencies to provide a range of services for the homeless. To date, the Adult Opportunity Center in Elliot Park has served more than 8,000 people and the Youth Opportunity Center on the north side of downtown has reached 1,805 young people.  

Twelve Project Homeless Connect events were coordinated — events held at the Minneapolis Convention Center that provide several services, including employment information and medical care. About 10,000 people have been served and 5,000 volunteers have been involved in the events.

While many on the City Council praised ten Broeke for her leadership and optimism, City Council Member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) said he was skeptical that the goal to end homelessness can be achieved by 2016.

In an interview before the Council meeting March 7, ten Broeke said she’s still hopeful that the goal is achievable.

“Yes, we can end homelessness,” she said. “There will always be crises that push people to lose their housing. But with broad strategies in place and more nuanced strategies for specific targeted populations, we can make homelessness a very temporary state.”

She pointed to the Downtown Council’s new 2025 Plan that calls for ending street homelessness in Minneapolis as an example of the broad support for tackling the problem. The plan sets a goal of extending housing to the 300 to 500 people who sleep on the streets.  

“[The Downtown Council] see that ending street homelessness is doable and they are showing commitment to make it happen,” she said.

For more details on Heading Home Hennepin, go to headinghomeminnesota.org/hennepin.

Reach Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com.