County grant aims to help young homeless and their families

Aug. 23—MANKATO — The underserved homeless youth population is the target of help from a new local program.

"I think people would be surprised to find out how many homeless are living in Mankato. It's unbelievable, people living out of their cars," said Blue Earth County Board Chair Vance Stuehrenberg during Tuesday's board meeting. "So anything we can do to help I think that's positive."

Nancy Bokelmann, Mankato's associate director of housing and economic development, told the board the help will come through a Local Homeless Prevention grant from the state Department of Revenue and that is funneled through the county.

"These funds are meant to help youth in our community and that is an underserved population," she said.

The county will get $158,688 this year and $193,526 for 2024. The aid was calculated based on population and student base.

The aid is meant to focus on pre-K to 12th-grade age kids.

Bokelmann said they will serve kids and their families "living in overcrowded conditions, paying more than 50% of their income towards rent or lacking a fixed, adequate nighttime residence."

She said they plan to piggyback on an existing program called Homework Starts With Home that is operated by Minnesota Valley Action Council and also works with helping youth find stable housing so they can concentrate on school.

Bokelmann said the MVAC program has received limited funding for its program and has been able to serve about 10 to 20 families a year.

"We hope to serve 40 to 50 families annually with this funding."

She said the Mankato school district said it has about 120 students who could benefit from the program.

County Commissioner Kip Bruender said he was glad to hear Bokelmann was planning to tailor the program to be similar to what MVAC is doing.

"I appreciate you're not trying to duplicate and reinvent the wheel but work together and get as many kids in the system as we can," he said.

Bokelmann said that when they identify youth and families needing help the goal is to get them into housing and stabilize their lives while transitioning them to the low-income voucher program for more permanent housing.

Under the state funding, counties and tribes must use the aid to fund new or existing family homeless prevention and assistance projects or programs.

Each program must connect families with the social services necessary to maintain the families' stability in their homes, such as housing navigation, legal representation and family outreach.

The DFL-controlled Legislature passed a $50 million boost to the state's Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program during the past session.