Address root causes of homelessness

Often, in times of economic uncertainty, the first state and city programs to be cut are those involving the homeless and indigent. Recent cuts to homeless programs in the Twin Cities area have been coupled with a cruel twist.

Over the last few years, Minnesota and Minneapolis have funded the installation of “transient barriers” under bridges and other areas commonly used by the homeless for sleeping and resting. These installations are meant to prevent the homeless from using these sheltered areas. At least 30 metro-area bridges now have these barriers.

Proponents of the barriers say they are for the good of the homeless, insisting the barriers will prevent them from crossing busy highways, thus avoiding potential traffic dangers. Not only does such a defense insult the adeptness of the homeless – Minnesota officials acknowledge they have no records of injury under bridges used by the homeless – it ignores the real issue: solving the problem of homelessness. These barriers simply push the homeless to other areas of shelter; this program provides no effort to get the homeless off the streets.

Half of Minnesota’s homeless are children. Many of the adults are working poor who cannot earn enough to pay rent. The homeless problem is not simply going to go away, and is getting worse as the economy continues to hemorrhage jobs. In a time of rising homelessness, for the state and the city to choose to fund transient barriers while not providing sufficient dollars to keep various metro-area homeless shelters open and homeless prevention programs operational is cruel indeed.

Rather than spending scarce resources to move the homeless from one outside area to another, Minnesota cities and the state would do better to use the money to address the root problems of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing, living wages and domestic and drug abuse, to name a few.