Council commits $1 million to reduce homelessness

Date: Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Metropolitan Council has committed 1 million dollars to a new winter homeless initiative announced by Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Dec. 19.

The goal of the statewide initiative is to immediately increase shelter capacity for Minnesotans living outside this winter. As of Dec. 18, $4.5 million had already been raised.

“We are proud to be the first public contributor to this important initiative,” said Molly Cummings, interim chair of the Council. “Children, families, and individuals need housing stability to be healthy and successful.”

“Homelessness takes a terrible toll on people, society, and the livability of the region. We pay a high price for services like emergency rooms and public safety — when our money could be better spent to provide permanent, supportive housing,” Cummings said.

Leaders talk about the new winter homeless initiative at the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center in Minneapolis on December 19.

1,600 people sleeping outdoors

How many people are experiencing homelessness? On a single night in January 2019, when the most recent annual survey was taken:

  • Nearly 8,000 Minnesotans were experiencing homelessness

  • More than 1,600 Minnesotans slept outside, up 48% in the last two years

  • About 27% were children

  • 65% were people of color and indigenous people

“This day is a call to action,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, speaking at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in Minneapolis. “This day is about honoring the men, the women, and the young people who have told us what it means to be without shelter in this state. And they have told us what to do to fix it.”

Alaina Song Brave, who said she spent many years on and off the streets, shared that for every white person who spends the night on the street, there are 28 Native Americans on the street. “Genocide, anyone?” she asked. Now an outreach worker to people experiencing homelessness, she said, “This is real for me. These are people, each one of them is a human being…please remember that this is life or death.”

Easily accessible funding to reduce homelessness

Alaina Song Brave, outreach worker who formerly lived on the streets, spoke about the brutal reality of homelessness.The Met Council contribution will go into the Minnesota Homeless Fund, which is assembling resources from philanthropic, corporate, and individual donors, as well as public entities. The fund will provide accessible funding for crisis response, shelter, and low-barrier affordable housing across the state.

Donations to the fund will be pooled and managed by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and an advisory board, which includes representatives from the public and private sectors, including people who have experienced homelessness. Robert Lilligren, Met Council member and committee chair, and leader of the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors, will chair the advisory committee.

Our contribution comes from the general fund levy and was approved in December with the 2020 budget.

Part of a long-term strategy to end homelessness

The winter homeless initiative is part of a longer-term strategy to end homelessness, said Gov. Tim Walz. But this surge of awareness and resources will allow people to find beds and get off the streets in a matter of hours, not days or months, he said.

The longer-term strategy is not only about expanding shelter beds but also providing more “deeply affordable” permanent housing across the state. This is an issue of math, it’s an issue of the number of units we have, Walz said.

Metro HRA vouchers allow people to find homes on the private market

Metro Transit’s Homeless Action Team partners with the Council’s Metro HRA to find housing for people who shelter on transit.The Met Council works in partnership with state agencies, local governments, service providers, people who have experienced homelessness, and private property owners to bring an end to homelessness.

Our Metro Transit Police Department’s Homeless Action Team partners with our Metro HRA (housing and redevelopment authority) to connect people who use transit for shelter to services and housing options. In November 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Metro HRA 89 vouchers for people with disabilities experiencing homelessness, and those vouchers are all in use.

In November 2019, HUD announced it would provide an additional 67 housing vouchers to Metro HRA, in partnership with the Homeless Action Team and Anoka and Carver counties, to expand assistance for people with disabilities experiencing homelessness. HUD gave the Minneapolis and Saint Paul housing authorities a total of 172 additional vouchers.

A housing voucher provides rent assistance, allowing people who have low incomes to afford a housing unit on the open rental market. The voucher fills the funding gap between what the person can afford to pay and what rent costs. Vouchers are portable and can be used with any participating landlord.

In total, Metro HRA administers 6,727 housing vouchers to families and individuals with low incomes.

“We work collaboratively with partners to break down the barriers that keep people from finding safe, affordable housing,” said Metro HRA Director Terri Smith. “None of us can do this alone, and we’re not going to stop until nobody is sleeping outside.”

Met Council works to expand the supply of housing affordable to people with low incomes

We also work with local governments and other partners to expand the supply of housing affordable to households with low incomes in the region. For example, between 1996 and 2019, our Livable Communities grants have helped fund creation and preservation of more than 24,000 affordable rental and ownership housing units.

While significant efforts have been made to increase affordable housing opportunities, the region is not keeping up with the need for housing affordable to households with low incomes. Building new housing is expensive and requires complex packages of financing and grants to achieve.

Our most recent report on affordable housing production (PDF) in the region found that from 2011 to 2017, about 9,000 new affordable units were added to the region’s housing stock. That is far below the estimated 52,570 new affordable units needed between 2011 and 2020 to keep pace with household growth.

“We all benefit when all residents in our communities live in affordable, quality homes,” Cummings said. “If we continue to work together, we can protect and improve the region's job stability, health outcomes, school outcomes, and overall livability.”

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