Homelessness Awareness Month is recognized throughout Anoka County in November -- everywhere except Oak Grove.
While other cities and the Anoka County Board traditionally pass an annual motion acknowledging Homeless Awareness Month, the Oak Grove council did not do so. With three votes needed and Council Member Mike Wylie absent, the remaining council members split the vote, 2-2. Anoka County officials said they could not recall a similar vote regarding this homelessness resolution.
"Our attitude is [that] homelessness is something nobody likes, so why would we basically want to celebrate it?" asked Council Member Dan Denno, who along with Scott Lawrence voted against the resolution.
"It would be like recognizing Pothole Awareness Month," Denno said. "Is this just more recognition so government can get some money from somewhere?"
Denno's complaints aren't with the homeless. He just doesn't think it is the responsibility of Anoka County and its cities to pour taxpayer dollars into programs for the homeless. He would prefer that funding come through private donations.
"I appreciate places like Mary's Place in Minneapolis that take care of the homeless without public funding," Denno said.
Denno also questions the accuracy of recent homeless counts. Counts throughout the metro area last winter indicated that homelessness had quadrupled over the past four years in Washington County and grew 20 percent over last year's count in Dakota County. The waiting list at Anoka County's only homeless facility hit an all-time high of 80.
Unemployment, rising costs and mental illness have contributed to rising homeless numbers. Particularly alarming in Anoka County was the increase in the number of homeless youth 12 to 18. In 2011, 108 were counted; in January, the count reached 150 -- a 40 percent increase.
Wylie, who missed the Oak Grove council meeting so he could tend to his cancer-stricken father, said he was disgusted by the council's vote.
"They're anti-everything," he said. "They voted against giving money to Alexandra House," which provides domestic-violence and sexual-violence services in Anoka County.
Mayor Mark Korin voted to approve the homelessness resolution, as did Council Member Kevin Robinson.
"We recognize there are people in desperate situations," Korin said. "All of us do.
"But there's a bigger problem here than just the homeless," Korin said.
"It's pretty obvious that our country is not in the best situation. We need to get people back to work."
Robinson said recognizing Homelessness Awareness Month would have been "a harmless declaration."
"Would voting that way make a difference down the road?" Robinson asked. "It's hard to say."
Voting against the resolution may have made a louder statement, Lawrence said.
"By voting against this, Oak Grove will have people talking about homelessness," he said.
"Without a call to action to work toward a solution, declaring Homelessness Awareness Month trivializes it. It cheapens it," Lawrence said.
"As far as getting the word out ... us voting no has probably provided more awareness than other cities."
Paul Levy 612-673-4419