Bleak posters with messages like, “Daddy lost his job. Now I sleep in the back seat,” will soon appear in community centers and churches, newspaper advertisements and even a billboard or two in Dakota County.
The county plans to spend the next year raising awareness of homelessness.
“One of the big misconceptions is that Dakota County, or the suburban areas in general, don’t have homelessness. And what we want to state unequivocally is that we do have homelessness,” said Madeline Kastler, county housing manager.
Dakota County launched the “Home is where the heart is, until it’s gone” campaign after receiving a $6,500 grant from the Family Housing Fund.
The stereotypical faces of homelessness — people panhandling on street corners or sleeping under bridges — are not common in rural and suburban Dakota County, where 81 percent of the homeless population is families with children, according to an annual count that was conducted in January 2014. The one-day survey found 677 people were homeless in the county, but officials say many more go uncounted.
Someone who is homeless in the suburbs is more likely sleeping on a family member’s or friend’s couch, social service providers said. That population goes unseen and tends to get ignored.
Whether someone is staying on a park bench, in a shelter or a relative’s spare room, the uncertainty of not having a permanent home causes problems, especially for children who are jostled between schools, Community Services Director Kelly Harder said.
Kastler called it the “collateral damage” of not having a home — education, health and work can also become unstable.
The campaign aims to shed light on the prevalence of homelessness locally and encourage people to help change it.
“We, unfortunately, as a society, have become very comfortable with saying ‘Oh, that’s somebody else’s problem,’ or ‘Oh, I don’t want to get involved,’ ” Harder said.
People don’t have to solve someone else’s issues, they can just point them to the county’s new one-stop housing crisis hot line, at 651-554-5751, he said.
The phone line allows officials to learn about people’s needs and decide how to best help them. Homelessness is usually a symptom of other stressors — mental health issues or a lost job — and the county staff works with partner agencies to tailor their response to a person’s specific situation, Harder said.
Officials hope the images plastered around the county will spur people to reach out to others who might be on the brink of homelessness. Communications Director Gail Plewacki said she wants the posters to inspire people to donate, volunteer with an agency or help with the annual count of homeless people,
Above all, she hopes those who see the posters realize, “Wow, it could happen to somebody I know and love, because it’s not that hard. It’s just not that hard to fall on tough times.”