Since we know that supportive housing is effective to stop homelessness, what are the barriers to going to scale? Why does it remain so difficult to assemble the funding?
On Feb. 27, 50 key leaders from the public sector (Ramsey County, the City of Saint Paul, the State of Minnesota), leading foundations and non-profits and the faith community gathered to talk through the challenges and system change needed to create housing for homeless young people in Ramsey County.
One of the most compelling speakers was Rassoul Dastmozd, the President of Saint Paul College. We invited him knowing he’s been an advocate for housing and services for young people going to college while homeless. What we didn’t know was that he had been homeless himself when he was a student. He shared what it was like to live out of his Ford Fiesta for almost a month while he was in college. The struggle to find a place to shower let alone a place to study and how embarrassed he became. What a journey to now be in a place to reach out to students in need — yet how sad that the problem has become so large in the last 30 years.
Vice President of Wilder Programs Bobbi Cordano and I shared our perspectives on the challenges that we have faced in creating Prior Crossing, our proposed supportive housing for homeless young adults in St Paul. Although the project has had significant community support including from our partner congregation The House of Hope Presbyterian Church, it has been a challenge to assemble the capital, service and rental assistance funding. We shared that from a systems point of view, service funders want the capital committed and capital funders want the service funding committed – meaning that worthwhile and needed supportive housing gets caught in the proverbial chicken-or-egg cycle. Which comes first? Capital funding or service funding?
Participants discussed these challenges in groups at their tables. They expressed strongly that we need to create a system that puts the youth in the center, and that one of the greatest barriers is that in our current system young people need to fall into certain categories to receive services so that too many fall between the cracks.
What was clear is the abundant energy and passion about what we can do working together across these sectors – public sector, social sector, faith community – to end youth homelessness in our community.