Since December, half the people who left Minneapolis' temporary homeless shelter near the Franklin Avenue light-rail station have found permanent housing. The rest ended up in jail, back on the streets or their whereabouts is unknown, according to city data presented Friday.
Two people in the city's "navigation center" succumbed to overdose-related deaths.
City Council members held a public meeting with representatives from Hennepin County, nonprofits and a myriad of others who helped create and maintain the city's navigation center, a short-term solution that replaced the homeless encampment on Franklin and Hiawatha avenues last fall. The center is scheduled to close at the end of May, so human service workers are hurrying to find long-term housing for the 90 people who still live there.
At Friday's meeting, the group celebrated an unprecedented collaboration of private and government efforts that took action quickly to move the encampment into safer structures before winter.
It was also an expensive project, costing approximately $3.2 million in capital and operational expenses, said Minneapolis City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde.
City Council President Lisa Bender said the goal of Friday's meeting was to use the partnership to come up with longer-term solutions.
"The number of people experiencing homelessness is on the rise across the state of Minnesota. The city of Minneapolis is stepping up to do more, but we also need to do that in partnership," Bender said. "The scale of the problem is so large we really can't solve it in the city."
In Hennepin County alone, there are about 2,000 people experiencing homelessness, most concentrated in Minneapolis, according a snapshot taken by county human service workers last July. Of those, 532 had no form of shelter.
"The reality is, we have 500-plus people who have nowhere to go," John Tribbett, street outreach manager for St. Stephen's Human Services, told the group. "They will be on our streets. They will be in our abandoned houses. They will be riding on our light rails."
Unsheltered homelessness is not a new problem in Minnesota, but the encampment brought new attention to it, particularly the overrepresentation of people of color.
Data presented Friday showed blacks make up 60% of the homeless population in Hennepin County, despite only accounting for 13% of the county's overall population. American Indians — who account for 1% of the total county population — represent 8% of homeless people. Those identifying as multiple races accounted for another 8%, according to the data.
Last summer, after the encampment grew quickly into one of the largest homeless settlements in Minnesota history, city leaders moved quickly to find a temporary solution before winter came. The City Council approved $1.5 million in October without many details on how it would be spent. In December, with the help of tribal leaders and nonprofits, the encampment dwellers moved across the street to three heated tents on a property owned by the Red Lake Nation.
While it was a dramatic improvement from the encampment, an outdoor shelter in the Minnesota winter was far from ideal, said Steve Horsfield, executive director of Simpson Housing Services, which operates the navigation center.
"There is no need for us to have to respond with an outdoor campus model again," he said. "No one sitting in this room thinks it's a good idea when it's 10-below in January to have to walk outside from your bedroom to the bathroom."
Bender said the city will work toward more sustainable solutions this summer in conjunction with the county, state and others.
But the cost in time and money has been high, said Rivera-Vandermyde, and city and community leaders will need to start making decisions on how to balance these needs against other pressing issues facing Minneapolis.
"If these were easy issues, we would have solved them," she said.