Homelessness declining in Minn.

A U program has helped decrease the number of homeless Minnesotans.

Hannah Schacherl

While thousands of Minnesotans are without stable housing to protect from frigid nights and the icy breath of winter, the number of homeless in the state has decreased, according a recently released report. 
The November report by the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development showed a 10 percent drop in homelessness statewide since 2014.
Though the decline can be credited to many factors — like increased cooperation between state agencies and an improved economy — research and work from the
University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs contributed to the decrease, said Lisa Thornquist, Heading Home Hennepin’s research and evaluation director.
Heading Home Hennepin is Minneapolis and Hennepin County’s plan to end homelessness by 2016. The University partnered with Hennepin County through capstone senior seminars that honed in on the demographics of people likely to return to shelter over a period of five years. 
“The [University’s] research showed statistically significant data that one out of four families return to shelter,” Thornquist said. “[The research] found a better way to launch people into housing and started the thinking behind the Stable Families Initiative.”
The initiative is designed to target demographics that are most vulnerable to chronic homelessness.
Thornquist said the data showed people of color, young families, people without high school degrees and people from North Minneapolis were more likely to frequent homeless shelters. 
Heading Home Hennepin Director Mikkel Beckmen said the program has three main focuses — job training, young women with children under 5 years old and older families with disabilities — to better assist those seeking shelter.
In order to reach those goals, Thornquist said Heading Home Hennepin helped participants find jobs and grants two years of rent subsidies to allow families more time to build stability on their own. 
“We have seen a significant drop in the data, with the treatment group having more stable housing,” she said, adding that those who didn’t receive those services had a higher rate of return to shelters. 
Hennepin County is a “right to shelter” community, which means they never turn away an individual or family.
“There are four other ‘right to shelter’ communities in the U.S., and we are the only ones who have had a downturn in numbers, so we’re doing something right,” said Beckman. 
The 2008 recession, along with high vacancy rates, put many Minnesotans at risk for homelessness, said Cathy ten Broeke, Heading Home Minnesota state director to prevent and end homelessness.
She said housing stability is important to ensure the state has a good workforce and is educated.
To continue to build on the program’s success, Beckman said the University will continue to research the issue.
“We can expand the program in Hennepin County to make it business as usual and then tailor it to other communities to help their repeat users remain out of shelter,” Thornquist said.