Fewer Minnesotans were homeless at the start of this year than in 2014 — the first drop in several years and one more dramatic than the national average.
Statewide, the number of people experiencing homelessness on a night in January fell 10 percent, compared to a year earlier, according to an annual report the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released Thursday. The national total declined 2 percent.
“I’m delighted that this year … we saw the first decrease in many, many years,” said Cathy ten Broeke, state director to prevent and end homelessness. Such a decline “definitely doesn’t happen by accident.”
Communities counted 7,546 people in shelters or on the streets in January 2015, compared to 7,869 in 2010, the report shows, a decrease of 4 percent. That compares to an 11 percent decline nationally over those five years, federal data show. But homelessness in the state is still up 3 percent over 2007.
During the recession, the number of people experiencing homelessness swelled, ten Broeke said. “So now we’ve been fighting to bend the curve in the right direction again.”
This year’s numbers reveal progress in a key figure: homeless families with children. The number of homeless people within families in Minnesota dropped from 4,725 in 2014 to 3,924 this year, or 17 percent, the report shows.
That’s the fifth greatest decrease of any state, according to the report. Florida had the biggest year-over-year decline.
In Minnesota, Hennepin County counted the most progress in that category, ten Broeke said, thanks in part to a strategy called the Stable Families Initiative. That program uses data to target the families most likely to return to homeless shelters with supportive services tailored to their situations — including employment counseling and rental assistance.
“So I think we’re seeing the benefits of that kind of work,” ten Broeke said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but those are very encouraging trend lines for us.”
The number of homeless veterans in Minnesota declined, as well. But there was an increase in the number of people considered chronically homeless, those who haven’t had a permanent residence for at least a year.
The numbers are a snapshot — a collection of counts from volunteers on a single night in January. The figures can be affected by the number of volunteers deployed and, especially in northern Minnesota, weather.
The national count divides Minnesota into 10 regions. Some did better than others at reducing homelessness between 2010 and 2015, data show.
Some regions saw increases. In southwest Minnesota, the number of people in shelters and on the streets rose from 73 to 124, a 70 percent bump over those five years.
Measured as a percentage, the biggest drop over that time came in northeast Minnesota, a rural region with St. Louis County carved out of it. The number of people experiencing homelessness fell from 208 to 68 in 2015 — a difference of 67 percent.
Patty Beech, the coordinator of that region’s Continuum of Care group, said that there are several reasons behind that dramatic drop, some worth celebrating.
Over those five years, the area has increased the number of permanent housing beds for homeless people from 152 to 220. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa developed 34 of those units — 24 for people who need supportive care and 10 for homeless veterans.
But the 2015 count of people outside of shelters, often found “living in a doorway, living in a fish house, living in a shack,” seems unusually low, Beech said.
Trying to find people in the area’s rural reaches during the year’s coldest weather can be tough, she said. “It could be just a year where volunteers didn’t count as many.”