Many of the state’s poorest families found little to no relief over the past year, despite dropping unemployment and booming construction.
The number of homeless children and families in Minnesota remains higher than before and during the recession, according to a report released Monday by the Minnesota Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing.
Nearly 4,000 children in the Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school districts were homeless around the start of the school year, more than in any of the last seven years, the report says. In Hennepin County, the number of families seeking shelter in July, August and September — typically the busiest months for the county’s shelter services — was the highest quarterly average since 2000, with the exception of 2013.
Advocates for the homeless said people at the bottom of the economic ladder are falling into several gaps. There are more jobs, but they don’t pay enough. More housing is going up, but sale prices are soaring. The tightening rental market is even more difficult for people looking to pay less than the average rent, which rose this summer to $1,007 in the Twin Cities.
“Certain groups of people are really benefiting; other groups of people are yet to benefit from the improved economy,” said Leigh Rosenberg, research and communications director for the Minnesota Housing Partnership.
The organization’s report pulled together data from several government agencies, much of it from between July and October. It included some hopeful signs for renters and homeowners: The number of evictions filed in the state was down from 2013, and the number of mortgage delinquencies and pre-foreclosure notices stayed relatively stable.
Meanwhile, the number of building permits issued in the state was up for the fourth straight year.
All of that is good news — but only if you’re making enough to even consider being able to rent or buy a home, said Mikkel Beckmen, director of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness.
“It’s not making a difference for the people we’re seeing in our family shelter system, which is a lot of young women with kids, with incredibly low incomes,” he said. “We don’t see people earning $25,000 in our shelter system. We see families earning $6,000, $8,000, $10,000 annually.”
Not enough money
Beckmen said many of the people he works with have service industry jobs where they earn about $10 per hour, but work about eight to 10 hours a week and supplement that income with public assistance.
“There’s just no housing you can purchase on the market with that low of income,” he said. “And your only option is getting on a waiting list for public housing, but the waiting lists are closed.”
For the part of its report on homeless families seeking shelter, the organization used numbers only from shelters in Hennepin County, which is the only county in the state that does not turn away families in need of shelter if it hits capacity.
From July through September, 372 families sought shelter in Hennepin County. That was down from 386 in the same period last year, but up considerably from the years just before the recession, when the number hovered below 200.
Beckman said he expects the numbers from the last three months of the year to show a bigger drop from late 2013, which he said would be a positive sign for next year.
‘On the right path’
Liz Kuoppala, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, is also optimistic.
She said outreach and government agencies have made “significant” progress on ending homelessness among single adults and veterans. Making a similar dent in the population of homeless families is tougher, because larger apartments and homes are less affordable, she said.
But Kuoppala said her group and others are working with schools and legislators to build support for affordable-housing projects and other efforts that could benefit homeless families.
“We think we’re on the right path,” she said.