Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Thursday unveiled an update on his groundbreaking homelessness initiative — making a pitch to local property owners to make more affordable units available to help stabilize the home lives of homeless students in Minneapolis Public Schools.
The new Stable Homes, Stable Schools pilot program, which Frey announced at the start of the school year, will provide rental assistance and other support services to the families of about 650 students in the state’s third-largest school district. And University of Minnesota researchers will evaluate how the program will impact the students’ education.
“Stable Homes, Stable schools is really important to me,” Frey said at a news conference at Cityview Community School of Innovation — one of the schools in the program. “I think it can be a game changer for students and a game changer for their families.”
This is the first time the city, school district, county and the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority have attempted such a large-scale effort to help homeless students. But with a tight housing market, city officials are under pressure to find affordable housing for a growing number of homeless students. Their preliminary plan to house the first batch of families in April fell through.
Frey stressed the importance of getting property owners engaged in helping break the cycle of homelessness. Currently, about 7% of the district’s 34,000 students are homeless. The program is targeting its resources at 15 elementary schools with the highest rates of homelessness.
The city is investing $3.4 million annually and the MPHA, which is administering the program, is contributing $1.4 million a year. The second phase of the program is geared toward preventing families from experiencing homelessness with the help of the Pohlad Family Foundation, which is chipping in $500,000 over the next two years.
Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff said each year his teachers, social workers and administrators work around the clock to help thousands of homeless students, but it’s not enough.
“We need partnerships that address housing needs, we need partnerships that address employment needs of our families and we need partnerships that address the well-being of our families,” Graff said.
Program leaders are working with the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, which represents more than 2,200 property owners across Minnesota, to find vacant units. The challenge, association leaders say, is that only 2% of the affordable housing units in Minneapolis are vacant.
“Property owners are looking to have residents come in that will be stable, long-term residents,” said Nichol Beckstrand, the association’s president. But she said property owners will find the program’s connection to schools and the community appealing.
The program, operating for less than two months, has served more homeless students than initially anticipated, Frey said. To date, the program has enrolled more than 150 students, and is currently working with the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. The YMCA has already started helping families find housing, employment and educational opportunities.
Cityview Principal Renee Montague said the program will ease the struggle of the nearly 30% of students who are homeless or highly mobile in her north Minneapolis school. At least seven of the participating schools are on the North Side.
The MPHA is gearing up for a second round of referrals from school social workers to help families over the summer. And next school year, a new batch of families will be identified for services. Families interested in the program should contact their school’s social workers. Property owners who would like to get involved in the program should contact the public housing authority.