EDITORIAL: Housing Hennepin plan offers hope for homeless

·2 min read

Jul. 6—A success story in Hennepin County in reducing homelessness is worth sharing as groups across the state put effort into solving the vexing longtime problem.

The solutions were not complicated for the county, which has reduced its daily homeless count from 3,731 in 2014 to 2,678 in January, the lowest count in 17 years, according to a report in the Star Tribune.

In 2006, the county and the city of Minneapolis made a commitment of $45 million to the project called "Heading Home Hennepin." But the county also used $91 million of its $245 million of pandemic aid for housing and homeless programs. It increased its housing and homeless budget by 11% since 2019.

Some 35 social workers are designated to meet individually with homeless people and help them set up temporary housing, employment and health care. That's a dramatic increase in staffing. Individual case workers determine a person's barriers to housing.

The program works to connect people with federal Section 8 housing with subsidized rents, and it keep shelters open during the day so there can be more one on one counseling with clients. The project purchased four hotels and set them up as individual units for temporary housing.

When the pandemic eviction moratorium ended, the county helped homeless clients navigate their way through court to stop evictions.

As an in-depth report on homeless by The Free Press showed, many of the same efforts are being made here with counties and nonprofits working together.

But the need for more funding remains, and with no agreement on taxes and spending by the Legislature this year — despite a preliminary deal — homeless programs will remain unfunded.

Some 50,000 people in Minnesota experience homelessness in a year, according to the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless shelters are so sparse, people sometimes have to drive 100 miles to find one. The group has proposed establishing 50 new shelters in the state at a cost of $114 million. More than half of those would be in outstate Minnesota.

But without state money, the counties and cities may have to take on funding of such steps. Hennepin County offers a good example of how to do that.