A 10-year plan to end homelessness in Hennepin County has concluded short of its goal, with the number of homeless actually increasing slightly since 2007.
Even so, there were successes to point to after a decade of intense collaboration, said David Hewitt, the new director of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness. “All of the talk was of the need to carry the energy forward and carry the communitywide effort forward,” Hewitt said.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and former Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, now executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, gathered Wednesday with about 100 others at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church to reflect on the Heading Home Hennepin plan — its successes, shortcomings and promise moving forward.
The number of homeless in Hennepin County counted on one night in January 2016 was 3,056, up about 2.5 percent from the 2,984 recorded in 2007 when Heading Home Hennepin was launched.
The outcome was influenced by the Great Recession — resulting in rising poverty and unemployment — followed by a shortage in affordable housing, with homeless counts surging to a high of nearly 3,700 in 2014, stakeholders said.
Hodges acknowledged that homelessness hasn’t ended in Hennepin County or Minneapolis. “However, anyone who tells you there’s a quick and easy solution to homelessness hasn’t been doing the work. ... Given the devastating impact of the recession, we should be especially proud of the fact that thousands of people have housing because of those efforts,” she said.
While the total number of homeless rose — including those staying at emergency shelters or in transitional housing — the number of people on the street without shelter dropped from 556 in 2007 to 169 last year.
The number of chronically homeless — defined as people with a disability who have been homeless for at least a year — dropped from 919 to 390 since 2006. Moreover, there were no families with children found on the street in the 2016 count, Hewitt said.
And the number of homeless veterans statewide has been cut by more than half since 2006, thanks to state-led efforts.
The amount that Hennepin County spent on homelessness prevention doubled from approximately $1.1 million in 2007 to $2 million last year, Hewitt said. And Hodges said that she wants to increase the amount that the city has spent on housing programs since she became mayor.
Hewitt, who took over as director of Heading Home Hennepin just five weeks ago, said there’s new momentum now directed at efforts to end homelessness for families with children and youth by 2020.
“Our goal is to make sure homelessness is rare, brief and nonrecurring,” he said.