Day after day, the street outreach team for St. Stephen's Human Services goes outside to find and assist the hundreds of homeless people in Minneapolis.

They look under bridges, peek down stairwells, follow railroad tracks and go wherever else people without housing are likely to stay. Now, funding from the city of Minneapolis will allow them to continue their work for the next five years.

A City Council committee on Tuesday awarded $300,000 for the nonprofit's six-person team. The funding — a $150,000 annual grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development matched by the city — is renewable for up to four years.

The city has contracted with St. Stephen's since 2007 as part of its efforts to end homelessness. Renewing the group's funding will allow the team to keep working during the winter to connect people with necessary services and get them one step closer toward permanent housing.

John Tribbett, the program manager for street outreach, said the city's funding is the "backbone of support" for his team. "That is what allows our team to continue to function," he said.

The need for help is great, particularly because of the rising cost of housing, he said. The nonprofit found more than 520 people without shelter during its July count and interacted with more than 1,700 people in 2018. The homeless are disproportionately people of color.

Deep relationships

St. Stephen's street team, which has been around for 13 years, is one of several groups reaching out to the city's homeless population, including People Inc. and the American Indian Community Development Corp. These groups frequently collaborate, and helped relocate residents of the encampment that grew along Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis last summer. They also work closely with Hennepin County's Office to End Homelessness, which helped the city develop its latest grant.

While the outreach team's more immediate goal is to make sure people stay safe outdoors and have access to health care and other services, the team also works to move those they contact into housing. More than 80 percent of St. Stephen's past clients have been placed in permanent housing, according to the city, one of the reasons the group's contract was renewed.

"They've developed a very efficient model," said Andrea Brennan, the city's director of housing policy and development. "They have done a really great job of making sure that they can meet the outreach needs in the city."

Three other organizations applied for the city funding. However, each of those proposals would have resulted in at least a 90-day gap in services and fewer total outreach workers, according to the city.

"Especially this time of year, it's really critical we don't have a disruption in service," Brennan said.

The St. Stephen's team has built deep relationships in the years they've moved around the city. The work attracts people with a desire for social justice and what Tribbett called a "front-line attitude."

"As difficult as it is for us, it's nothing compared to the difficulty that the people that are actually living on the street unsheltered are experiencing," he said.