New goals to help end homelessness

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Our frigid winter weather reminds us all (yet again) that thousands of Minnesotans are homeless or without a safe, stable place to live. While shelters and service providers have stepped in to save lives by offering 24-hour warming space and other expanded help, the ultimate fix lies in larger structural changes. State government isn’t (and can’t be) the only entity engaged in ending homelessness, but its programs and policies play a significant role in the life of every Minnesotans.

To that end, the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness recently pulled together the commissioners of 11 state agencies, ranging from Education to Transportation, and created a statewide Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. The Council identified twelve key actions to take over the next two years, each with deadlines, accountabilities, and measurable goals. The list includes:

  1. Increase investments in affordable housing and rental assistance.
  2. Create new supportive housing opportunities for the most vulnerable families experiencing homelessness.
  3. Evaluate current workforce training, employment and education programs.
  4. Identify, assess and improve key mainstream programs by each state agency that could prevent and end homelessness for families and individuals.
  5. Maximize the use of health care funding and services to promote improved health outcomes through stable housing.
  6. Work with corrections agencies and community providers to facilitate access to stable housing for offenders supervised in the community.
  7. End homelessness for veterans on a veteran-by-veteran basis.
  8. Improve the transitions of young people from foster care, juvenile corrections, or other systems.
  9. Identify homeless and highly mobile students and connect them and their families with services.
  10. Prioritize funding for efforts most successful at improving housing stability for communities disproportionately impacted by homelessness.
  11. Develop a statewide Coordinated Assessment process and tools.
  12. Improve data quality and access.

Most of these actions aren’t about reinventing the wheel, but instead about taking a good hard look at how well current programs serve those with housing needs. When resources exist, are they easily accessible? Where are the gaps in service? What initiatives have proven their efficacy and can be expanded?

We might see the fruit of this effort borne out in some promising ways. As one example, many people experiencing or at risk of homelessness suffer from significant physical-, chemical-, and mental-health issues. Medicaid can cover treatment for these needs, but it can be difficult for service providers to get their clients enrolled and to handle the administrative work necessary to recoup the cost of their services. Providing Medicaid support to these service providers may improve the care they can give to their clients.

Another enormous issue is that of youth homelessness. Wilder Research has found that 58 percent of homeless Minnesota youth have spent time in out-of-home placements such as foster care, treatment, or juvenile detention. Because so many homeless youth have been connected to these institutions, reaching them through these institutions seems logical. The council has set a goal to better identify which of these youth are most at-risk of homelessness and to connect each of them to a comprehensive “transition team” by no later than age 16.

Public assistance programs are also on the Council’s radar. Supports such as SNAP, child-care assistance, and health insurance are tremendously important. But accessing and maintaining coverage can be tough for someone lacking stable housing. For instance, a lack of stable mailing address makes it hard for people to receive and return required paperwork. Some programs require in-person visits to county offices, so transportation can pose a real barrier. The Council has committed to assessing these access issues and finding more effective ways to serve those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The examples above are just a few of those listed in the new plan. They underscore what we already know: that ending homelessness is possible and within our reach. We have a solid foundation of programs and services with successful track records. In the next two years, we should see even more positive progress as the Council’s plan moves forward.