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Understand homelessness

Every story is different. Someone might be homeless for a few days before returning to stability; another person’s journey may take months, or even years. A person experiencing homelessness could be obvious to you or it could be a complete surprise, like a co-worker or a person “doubling up” or staying with a friend. It’s complex.

To help end this crisis, we invite everyone in Minnesota to learn more about homelessness.

Minnesotans experiencing homelessness are moms and dads, sons and daughters, and grandmothers and grandfathers. They are people you would recognize as appearing homeless, and they are also kids in your child’s class, people working full time. Sometimes people experience homelessness for just a few days before returning to stability. Other times, the journey back to stability takes weeks, months, or years.

In the most recent homeless count, there were at least 10,233 people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota. Within that count, 40% of people experiencing homelessness (or 4,072) were counted in Hennepin County. Children and youth made up 43% of those experiencing homelessness in Hennepin County. Five hundred people who were identified in Hennepin County were age 55 or older — a 25% increase over the 2015 count.

The federal definition of homelessness can be read here. Essentially, it requires that a person lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and is primarily spending nights in shelter or in public or private places not meant for human habitation.

Other definitions of homelessness include people who are “doubling up” or staying with a friend, but Agate generally uses the federal definition to align with funding requirements.

For more information about who experiences homelessness in the Twin Cities, this article is very helpful: Getting a handle on the size of the homeless population in the Twin Cities, MinnPost.

There is only one thing that people experiencing homelessness have in common: They don’t have a stable place to live.

Homelessness is the result of complicated, systemic traumas. Actions and events that lead to homelessness cannot be reduced to voluntary choices made by individuals and families.

A fundamental reason that people are experiencing homelessness is that there is not enough affordable housing in Minnesota. Read more about that issue here: Affordable Housing.

Another reason that people experience homelessness in Minnesota is that the minimum wage is not a bridge out of poverty. In Minnesota, a household must earn more than $39,000 per year to afford the average two-bedroom rental, while leaving enough of their income for food and other needs. Learn more about this issue here: Economic Stability.

Evictions are another major challenge in our community. Evictions create housing instability in the short term when families and individuals lose their immediate housing, and limiting housing access in the long term, since property owners frequently screen out potential tenants who have prior evictions. Our friends at CommonBond Communities have a must-read article on “Four Myths About Evictions.”

It would be irresponsible to talk about why people experience homelessness without acknowledging the impact of systemic racism. In Hennepin County, Indigenous residents experience homelessness at 23 times the rate of white residents, and Black or African American residents experience homelessness at 15 times the rate of white residents. This highlights white supremacy inherent in systems that prevent people from building wealth and credit, and consequently, maintaining stable housing. Here are some resources for learning more about racial disparities in homelessness and their roots:

The National Alliance to End Homelessness — “Racial Inequality”

“A Pileup of Inequities: Why People of Color are Hit Hardest by Homelessness” (Pew Trusts)

“Homelessness is a Symptom of Racism” (Huffington Post)

For more information about why people are experiencing homelessness, this article is a great start: Start by knowing why: 5 reasons people are homeless in Minnesota, MinnPost.

Agate works to end homelessness for individuals and families every day. Through prevention, targeted intervention, and Housing First practices, we support people in stabilizing and rebuilding their lives. A good place to start would be contacting your legislators to let them know you want more affordable housing in Minnesota.

What should I do if...?

For emergencies, call 911.

However, it is important to remember that being homeless is not a crime. If the person or persons are not in immediate danger or distress, call our street outreach team at 612-879-7624.

We appreciate knowing about locations in which people experiencing homelessness are sheltering. Leaving a message with our outreach community number at 612-879-7624 is the best way to provide this information. We take each report seriously and do our best to engage with individuals. For reasons of privacy, we are unable to share with you if/when we connect with the person(s) in the location you have identified.

It’s important to remember that we are facing an emergency in our community driven by systemic issues like an affordable housing shortage, the wealth gap, stagnant wages, and legacies of racist policies and practices. Currently, there are more than 700 individuals who are living in places unfit for human habitation while shelters are at or near capacity. These 700+ individuals simply have nowhere to go. Please consider encouraging your elected officials to address homelessness in a compassionate and timely manner that reflects the reality and urgency of this humanitarian crisis. Of course, donating to local organizations addressing homelessness is always appreciated and needed.

We really like the answer the Coalition for the Homeless gives for this question, so we want to share it with you:

“Each of us must make our own decisions about whom to help and how, and just because someone is asking for food or money doesn’t necessarily mean they are homeless. But it’s safe to assume that person would not be asking for help if help was not needed.”

If you do not feel comfortable handing someone money or food, you can ask if they already have the Handbook of the Streets or the Street Outreach Resource Guide.

For other perspectives from local leaders, check out this Star Tribune article or this blog post from Guild Incorporated.

It can be disheartening to see the same people every day, but know that if they are “regulars” in Minneapolis, they are likely on our Street Outreach team’s radar. Know that our trained team is working to build relationships and rapport to encourage people who are eligible for help to make use of those resources.

Some people avoid shelter because of the “Three P’s” — partners, pets and/or possessions. Others may have had negative experiences in a shelter and are not interested in returning. Everyone is different, so it’s important to never make assumptions about a person.

It can be disheartening to see the same people every day, but know that if they are “regulars” in Minneapolis, they are likely on our Street Outreach team’s radar. Know that our trained team is working to build relationships and rapport to encourage people who are eligible for help to make use of those resources.

It’s also important to remember that we do not have enough affordable housing or shelter in the Twin Cities to accommodate everyone who needs them. Of the 843 to 893 shelter beds available for single adults in Hennepin County, most are filled on most nights. Of adults experiencing homelessness in Minnesota, 50% are on a waiting list for subsidized housing, and have been on a waiting list for an average of 12 months. In the summer of 2019, more than 45,000 applications were submitted for just 7,500 spots on Twin Cities waiting lists, and 70% of applicants identified as people of color or Indigenous.