More than 20 years ago, Mikkel Beckmen needed a part-time job and he had two options: a bagel shop or a homeless shelter.
He took the social services job. Now 49, Beckmen is the new director of Hennepin County’s office to end homelessness. He takes over six years into a 10-year joint effort with Minneapolis.
He’s worked for various agencies, most recently as executive director at St. Stephen’s, the large Hennepin County contractor of homeless services.
He knows the history: the federal government pulling $70 billion out of urban housing in the early 1980s, leaving local governments struggling to fill the gap. In the 1970s, he noted, the country had a surplus of affordable housing. No more. “We just don’t have enough units,” he said.
Yet he sees possibility in the lofty goal of ending homelessness: Minneapolis has a housing trust fund, the county has resources. Beckmen said this region is better than others where the homeless live in tent cities. “We’re not like some communities where you visibly see the distress,” he said.
He calls homeless people “resilient” and wants to spend the next four years giving them a “responsive system” that gives them a path to stability.
At Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Beckmen studied English and German literature after graduating in 1982 with the final class at Minneapolis’ West High School. His first job was at the Bridgeman’s in Uptown, but he always knew he wanted to work in a field where he could help people and the larger community. He worked at Harbor Lights when it first opened.
Off-duty, the father of two daughters is a music man. He plays the washboard, thanks to the encouragement of Charlie Parr, the Minnesota native and blues musician. Parr was working street outreach for the homeless when the two met. Beckmen bought his first washboard from the window at Steeple People. Earlier this year, Beckmen toured Europe with Parr.
He also plays in Corpse Reviver, a tribute band to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson