Public, private, nonprofit sectors join to fight homelessness

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A new initiative unveiled December 19 will bring partners from public, private and nonprofit sectors together to end long-term homelessness in Minnesota. HeadingHome Minnesota seeks to raise $217 million in new public money and an additional $60 million in private money over the next two years in addition to funds already raised to combat long-term homelessness.

At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty praised the initiative. “The announcement today is going to be a huge piece of really turbo-charging that effort,” said Pawlenty according to The St. Paul Pioneer Press. “One of the great beauties of this plan is that, while it is a moon-shot plan, it gets everybody coordinated toward the same goal with a common set of objectives and tactics.”

The initiative has already raised $16 million toward its private funding goals. HeadingHome Minnesota is looking to raise a total of $519 million, with $441 million from government agencies, some of which has already been secured, and $78 million from the private sector. By 2010, just two years away, the project hopes to end long-term homelessness in Minnesota.

The initiative will work on three key areas in four areas of the state: Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties and southeast Minnesota. HeadingHome Minnesota funds will go to prevent homelessness through emergency funds for those facing tough times, to create supportive housing for those seeking stable housing options and to fund round-the-clock outreach to help connect those living on the streets with housing services.

According to a 2006 study by Wilder Research, 9,200 Minnesotans are chronically homeless and of those 1,318 are families. According to the Minnesota Housing and Finance Authority, homelessness is compounded by other issues. More than half of Minnesota’s homeless suffer from mental illness, and a third have chemical dependency issues. One quarter have both a mental illness and chemical dependency. About one-third report a brain injury, 16 percent are veterans and 25 percent have been victims of domestic violence.

One aspect of the project is to create supportive housing for those transitioning out of homelessness. HeadingHome Minnesota is taking charge of the Business Plan to End Long-Term Homelessness, a program requested by Pawlenty in 2004 and authorized by the Legislature.

“The Business Plan has created over 1,600 supportive housing opportunities – almost halfway home toward its seven-year goal of 4,000,” said Jim Frey, president of the Frey Foundation in a press release Wednesday. “And it has succeeded while staying on budget and on time.”

Officials of HeadingHome Minnesota point to research by the University of Pennsylvania that makes the case for supportive housing in fighting homelessness. The data indicate that when people have supportive housing, their earned income increases by 50 percent on average, rates of incarceration are reduced by 50 percent and emergency room visits and detox services are reduced by 58 percent and 85 percent respectively.

“The good news is that we know what works to end homelessness,” said Jim Humphrey, president and chief executive officer of Andersen Corporation, and key partner in HeadingHome Minnesota, at Wednesday’s press conference. “After steady increases throughout the 1990s, the number of homeless Minnesotans appears to be leveling off as new strategies are being implemented. The challenge and opportunity for us now is to build on these successful strategies.”

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