Duluth’s new tool to fight homelessness: A bill of rights

Sharla Gardner met a mother who feared she’d lose her children if people learned of her homelessness and a man who was sure he’d lose his job for the same reason. She talked with people who preferred sleeping outside rather than in public shelters. She learned about the scarcity of affordable housing in Duluth.

And then, Duluth City Councilor Gardner said, she heard homeless people say they felt invisible and powerless.

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Homeless for 25 years, finally a room of his own

Living in his car, sleeping on buses, hunkering down with friends, for at least 25 years Lorenzo Vasquez had no place to call his own.Now at 61, he proudly unlocks the door to his very own place, a single room he’s outfitted with his own stuff.For him, the room at American House on the edge of Mears Park in downtown St. Paul is not only the end to homelessness but also a springboard to a new life and a steady job as a hairdresser.“They hand you the keys to your room; it’s like keys to a Rolls Royce,’’ he said.For state officials, Vasquez is a symbol of success on a continuing path toward housing Minnesota’s homeless.That’s a goal they see as more attainable since last month when the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness — a team of representatives from 11 state agencies running the gamut from Corrections to Housing to Human Services, Transportation and Veterans Affairs — with Gov. Mark Dayton’s support announced their coordinated “Heading Home: Minnesota’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.” Drafted in consultation with community stakeholders, the plan combines homelessness prevention strategies and housing construction.Community Sketchbook, reported and written by Cynthia Boyd, focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them. It is made possible by sponsorship support from The Minneapolis Foundation. Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundation.The effort isn’t “just about ending homelessness but changing the systems that have a role in preventing it,’’ explained Cathy ten Broeke, the state’s director to Prevent and End Homelessness. The problem is there are barriers to systems working together, she said.‘Disconnect’ between programsToo often, ten Broeke said, there’s a “disconnect” between programs that would enable people to make stable lives. Continue Reading

Working for minimum wage: ‘There’s no room for advancement’

Life could be different for Darcy Landau if the Minnesota Legislature had agreed this year to raise the minimum wage beyond the federal-mandated $7.25 an hour. (The House was willing to match the $9.50 an hour called for by advocates for the poor. The Senate bill offered a 50-cent-an hour increase. Compromise efforts failed, but don’t doubt legislators will hear the plea increase again in 2014.) Age 56 and a college graduate, for the past six years Landau has worked minimum-wage jobs at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport cleaning aircraft and jet-ways, running a warehouse forklift and now is employed as a traveler’s aide.

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Counting the homeless is challenging, especially in Minnesota

Numbers of homeless veterans and chronically unsheltered people in Minnesota are down, though the numbers of homeless families has increased, according to a nationwide annual count by the federal government.Local researchers and advocates for the homeless can agree with those trends.It’s the estimated tally of Minnesotans without a permanent place to lay their heads they take issue with.The official homeless assessment prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Congress released late last month estimates there were 8,214 homeless Minnesotans on a particular night last January.Housing and Urban Development estimated that there were over 8,000 homeless Minnesotans in January 2013. (Graphic courtesy U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)Compare that to an October 2012 survey overseen by Wilder Research in October 2014. That effort, also done on one particular day, tallied 10,214 homeless.Community Sketchbook, reported and written by Cynthia Boyd, focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them. It is made possible by sponsorship support from The Minneapolis Foundation. Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundation.So did the numbers of homeless drop 2,000 people in the course of about three months?“Absolutely not,” said Cathy ten Broeke, state director to prevent and end homelessness.The difference, she says, is in the details and the methodology, in other words the more comprehensive nature of the Wilder effort, as well as the fact in some cases it’s hard to find the homeless in Minnesota winter, especially in rural areas. Continue Reading

Mankato program finds creative ways to get low-income families transportation

Rosemary Johnson sells sewing machines at a business in St. Peter but lives 10 miles away on an organic strawberry farm in a rural area of south-central Minnesota.Money is tight. And with her own car in chronic need of major repairs and slipping away fast, she started wondering how, without a vehicle, she was going to be able to get to work. In “the country,” as she puts it, public transportation isn’t a realistic option, and as Minnesota winter sets in, a smoothly running vehicle is all the more important.Then, this fall, she remembered Dan Jones and Wheel Get There 3, a program of the Minnesota Valley Action Council (MVAC) based in Mankato that matches up low-wage earners and vehicles they need and can afford.In September Johnson and her husband bought her a 1995 Oldsmobile 88 sedan in good running order for $700 from the program.“It was really a blessing,” Johnson, 43, said, telling how she ended up driving the previous vehicle to the junk yard.Wheel Get There 3, which carries the number three in recognition of the fact it’s been reincarnated more than once through 15 years of operation, is a self-supporting program born in 1998 as a new way to help people out of poverty.The McKnight Foundation provided a start-up grant to take donated cars — “mechanic’s specials” — fix them up and sell them at low rates to low-income people. Since then, with other funding, it has expanded to include no-interest leasing of new Ford Focus sedans.Community Sketchbook, reported and written by Cynthia Boyd, focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them. Continue Reading

Minnesota report focuses on programs that work for Indian students

At 45.5 percent, Minnesota has the lowest on-time high-school graduation rate for its Native American students of any state in the country. Though acknowledging that hard truth, a new report by the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (MinnCAN) reflects hope.The report, “Native American Student Achievement in Minnesota,” not only focuses on some of the programs that are working for Indian students, but it is also a clear statement of Indian people’s commitment to help their children.Said Gerard Sorderlet Sr., chairman of the Cloquet Local Indian Education Committee and an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Tribe: “On the reservation we have a lot of addiction and a lot of poverty, and the only thing I know that can change that cycle is education.’’The study showcases three programs where students are making strong academic gains and suggests that is because the schools:Set high expectations for students and focus on their assets;Integrate indigenous history, culture and languages;Use assessment data proactively to intervene when students are struggling; Create permanent collaborative agreements between schools and the native community;Have access to programs that support the education of native teachers andRespond to needs articulated by Indian parent education committees.The three schools getting high marks are Anishinabe Academy’s Ojibwe language-immersion pre-kindergarten program in the Minneapolis public schools, Churchill Elementary School in Cloquet and Detroit Lakes Middle School in Detroit Lakes.Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them.It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundations.They were chosen, according to the study, because the Minneapolis program “consistently made tremendous gains in kindergarten readiness” and because Churchill and Detroit Lakes students’ scores on reading and math proficiency tests put them into MinnCAN’s Top 10 lists for Native American Achievement.Churchill Elementary places No. 2 in the list with 79 percent of Native American students are at or above proficiency. Detroit Lakes Middle tops off the middle-school list in the Native American category with 61 percent of students at or above proficiency.Sought hope“We sought hope and it turned out we didn’t need to look far. The expertise we need to reverse the numbers is already hard at work in Minnesota,” said Jacqueline White, researcher and co-author of the report.White and Daniel Sellers, executive director of MinnCAN, say the report is significant, too, for its indigenous bent. Continue Reading