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  • Writer's pictureVenus Darling

Homelessness Should Have Ended in 2016

Updated: Apr 17

Hennepin's History of Homelessness Initiatives & What You Can Do Today

A recent 2023 Minnesota Homeless Study, conducted through face-to-face interviews, revealed concerning trends, with over 10,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night in 2023. Of particular concern is the increase in homelessness among families and older adults aged 55 and above. While there has been a nominal decrease since 2018, year-over-year fluctuations are exacerbated by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In Hennepin County alone, the number of single adults experiencing homelessness has risen, attributed to factors like the end of eviction moratoriums and economic challenges. This emphasizes the urgent need for sustained solutions and why we must address this pressing issue as a community. By working together, we can ensure that our neighborhoods can access safe and stable housing.

Heading Home Hennepin: The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness

In 2006, a pioneering initiative unfolded among unhoused advocates, government officials, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders, marking a significant milestone in the fight against homelessness in Minneapolis. This initiative, named "Heading Home Hennepin: The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness", emerged within a broader nationwide endeavor led by the federal government, blending ambition with pragmatism.

Crafted over 100 days, this handbook provided a roadmap for addressing homelessness comprehensively. Now, 8 years beyond the intended goal, it's time to reflect on the progress of the 2006 initiative and unite as a community to end homelessness and champion a more inclusive and safe future for all.

This comprehensive report delineates 6 overarching goals, 30 recommendations crafted by the Commission, and over 50 actionable steps. It concisely identifies key issues within the current system proposing effective solutions, such as providing housing cost assistance to individuals and families in need, enhancing discharge procedures from public institutions, and investing in essential services like childcare, youth drop-in centers, and homeless outreach programs. Moreover, it bolsters access to employment, resources, and education promoting self-sufficiency for those experiencing homelessness. This handbook played a pivotal role in advancing the goal of ending homelessness by pinpointing systemic challenges and presenting viable solutions. The Commission was structured into 4 specialized committees—Single Adults, Families with Children, Unaccompanied Youth, and Finance—each helmed by distinguished individuals. Notable figures include Alison Legler, the author of the handbook; former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak, who served as a co-chair; seasoned attorney Mike Ceresi, who chaired the finance committee; Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, who led the families committee; Gary Schiff, who chaired the youth committee; Reverend James Gertmenian, who oversaw the single adults committee; and Cathy ten Broeke, the City-County Coordinator to End Homelessness.

PG. 76 of Heading Home Hennepin: The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County.

Increase in Homelessness Despite Efforts

Public Record Media, a nonprofit organization headquartered in St. Paul, reviewed over 5,000 emails and documents on Heading Home Hennepin, the visionary 10-year plan spearheaded by 70 community leaders in March 2006. However, the deployment of the plan was marred by significant challenges, including poor coordination, bureaucratic hurdles, and flawed data collection methods due to the disconnect with on-the-ground outreach workers. Furthermore, certain critical aspects of the plan, such as funding allocations for non-punitive child care and drop-in centers for at-risk youth, remained unresolved. Additionally, there was a concerning lack of accountability in tracking the expenditure of funds. Despite the plan's call for a $45 million investment, the absence of proper financial oversight resulted in an inability to ascertain the precise allocation and utilization of resources.

Other Initiatives & the Success of STEP-Up

Though the Commission's plan did not come to fruition, former leadership has made strides in addressing housing issues since the inception of the plan. Gary Schiff's tenure saw the initiation of the American Indian Home Ownership program, and the Ninth Ward witnessed the addition of 549 new affordable housing units, surpassing all other areas in the city. Cathy ten Broeke is spearheading a new project to reduce homelessness by 15% by 2026. Additionally, as mayor, R.T. established STEP-UP, a groundbreaking initiative preparing students for higher education and careers. Since its inception in 2004, STEP-UP has provided meaningful summer employment opportunities to 18,000 Minneapolis youth, with a notable emphasis on aiding marginalized communities. Moreover, Reverend James Gertmenian played a pivotal role as a co-founder of the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, which has constructed over $100 million worth of housing for low-income, disabled, and formerly homeless individuals and families by 2017.

The Reality of Homelessness

Despite some successes, such as a decline in homeless veterans and increased support services, the issue of homelessness persists in Minnesota. Efforts in Hennepin County have evolved, including establishing a Continuum of Care partnership consisting of elected officials, housing providers, advocates, and those with lived experience of homelessness. These partnerships convene regularly to share updates and research, and public meetings to foster transparency and collaboration. As we observe Fair Housing Month in April, commemorating the passage of the Civil Rights Fair Housing Act, which made it illegal to discriminate in housing transactions, it's imperative to recognize the underlying causes of homelessness. While many attribute it to factors such as housing affordability, income disparities, healthcare access, and unemployment, we must confront the harsh reality: to truly abolish homelessness we must challenge the commodification of housing itself.

Join Us in the Fight

When members of our community don't have a reliable place to call home, it impacts their health, safety, and dignity. It's about standing up for our neighbors who are struggling and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Let's continue to push the envelope to confront homelessness by harnessing our collective wisdom and forging a powerful path to create affordable and safe housing for all. Here's what you can do:

Read & Share the Continuum of Care Plan

Knowledge is power and its abundance is already available to us, as evidenced by this handbook. Countless theorists, organizers, and activists have meticulously analyzed societal structures, providing invaluable insights for building a better world. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we must tap into their wisdom to enhance our efforts. This understanding lets us embark on a transformative journey toward housing justice.

Hold officials accountable by contacting CoC Coordinators and attending their care meetings

Holding officials accountable is essential for a thriving community. When we ensure that those in positions of power are held responsible for their actions and decisions, we uphold the principles of transparency, integrity, and fairness. Accountability fosters trust between the government and the people it serves, promoting a sense of civic engagement and empowerment. Accountability is a check against corruption, incompetence, and abuse of authority, ultimately leading to more effective governance and better outcomes for everyone. By holding our officials accountable, we can prevent the failure of another homelessness initiative, and ensure that the promises of the current Continuum of Care plan are upheld.

Support housing justice organizations through volunteering or donating

Donating to the Renter Support Fund ensures that struggling families in our neighborhood can keep a roof over their heads. Every contribution, big or small, goes directly towards providing low-barrier cash assistance to renters facing financial hardship. Your donation to the Renter Support Fund is crucial in making a tangible difference in the lives of our neighbors. Together, we can create positive change and uplift those who need it most. Your support matters. Thank you for making a difference.

Your support, whether through volunteering, donations, or spreading awareness, is invaluable in our fight to end homelessness. With our collective efforts and forward-thinking mindset, we can fight for a better tomorrow. Let's continue to work hand in hand, knowing that every step we take brings us closer to a brighter, more inclusive future for all. Together, we can be the change our community needs.

Other Incredible Housing Justice Organizations, Programs, & Initiatives to Support:

Editor: Ren Koo


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