The state of Minnesota has a $7.1 million plan to make a dent in the intractable problem of homelessness by reaching out to a variety of community groups in the south metro area and elsewhere around the state.

The majority of the funding through the “Live Well at Home” program will go to housing organizations. One of the groups, Alliance Housing Inc., will be given $700,000 toward building affordable housing in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis to serve older, homeless adults.

The rest of the money will be distributed somewhat evenly among more than 30 nonprofit organizations like Faith Community Nurse Network of the Greater Twin Cities, Store to Door, and Vision Loss Resources. Many of the organizations have programs that provide service in several counties in the south, east and west Twin Cities metro area.

The money also should help older Minnesotans stay in their own homes rather than pushing them into expensive nursing homes, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS).

“Live Well at Home grants have helped people stay home as they age, which is what most prefer,” DHS Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper said in a prepared statement.

DARTS is an organization in Dakota County that focuses on improving the life of older adults so that they can stay in their own homes. Executive Director Courtney Whited said that their mission is to “create connections that enrich aging.”

The money will help DARTS make home improvements, fund its “learning buddy” programs and support volunteer caregivers.

Jessica Drecktrah, program director for Faith Community Nurse Network, also in Dakota County, said that the organization plans to use the Live Well grant money to establish a new program called ”Stepping On” to teach balance tactics and strength training designed to reduce injuries and death from falls.

The idea, originally from Australia, touts a 31-percent reduction in falls. The Nurse Network hopes to see similar results in Minnesota. The first Stepping On class is scheduled for Dec. 7.

“Minnesota ranks fifth in the country on fall-related deaths,” Drecktrah said. The Stepping On program is designed to minimize injuries resulting from falls, which are expensive to treat and often lead to premature death.

The nurse network serves about 250 congregations among the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities, Drecktrah said, noting that nearly nine out of 10 older adults “affiliate with a faith.”

Barbara Jeanetta, executive director of Alliance Housing Inc., said that this is a first time Live Well grant money will go toward building housing. She said homeless shelters are seeing an increase in adults over 55.

Research by the Wilder Foundation shows that the number Minnesotans age 55 and above increased by 8 percent from 2012 to 2015. Insufficient affordable housing, job losses and chronic mental or physical health conditions are the top three reasons for homelessness in Minnesota, the organization found.

Jeanetta said that although the details are still in motion, construction on the Alliance project is set to begin in spring 2018 if they can raise the rest of the money they need. The goal is to emerge debt-free so the group can keep its rents low. Alliance plans to partner with Touchstone Mental health to help tenants get medical care, and addiction treatment.

Applicants for the single-unit apartments must have been homeless or get a referral from a shelter and make less than $18,000 a year, Jeanetta said.

Loren Colman, assistant commissioner at DHS for continuing care for older adults, said the competitive Live Well grant program seeks to close service gaps throughout Minnesota to support older adults living at homes or in the community. Money is distributed at different times once grantees obtain matching funds and other resources.

“The work is never done,” Coleman said.


Destanie Martin-Johnson is a student at the University of Minnesota on assignment for the Star Tribune.