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Revised figures on homeless in Minnesota show significant increase

A new report estimates the overall number of homeless people in Minnesota is significantly increasing, and now is at least 13,100 on any given night.

Wilder Research reported last March a startling 22 percent increase in the number of homeless persons in Minnesota. Turns out that figure was low.

The numbers of those counted as living in shelters, transitional housing and in the woods or on the streets one night last October has actually increased 25 percent compared to three years ago.

That figures out at 9,654 homeless adults, youth and children statewide. In reviewing their numbers, Wilder analysts discovered 200 adults overlooked in their initial tally: spouses and partners of those interviewed. ‘Course, they had told us their analysis was preliminary, a work in progress.

Additionally, this week in a new and broader report, Wilder researchers pumped the numbers even higher, factoring in counts by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a number of independent studies. They now estimate the overall number of homeless in Minnesota is at least 13,100 on any given night, a significant increase from the 24-hour statewide count, which they’ve been doing every three years since 1991.

Statewide, the Wilder report is viewed as the gold standard of homelessness counts for the wealth of information it delivers to lawmakers and social planners.

As far as whether these are true Minnesota folks or transplants, the Wilder survey found 77 percent of the adults questioned had lived in the North Star state more than two years, “the highest proportion since the start of the study.” Of the more recent residents, about one-third had lived in the state in the past. 

Racial disparities
“I would say the biggest topic for concern was just how much the numbers had gone up,” said Wilder research scientist Ellen Shelton, in talking about the presentation of the report this week to about 300 people from state agencies, advocacy groups, schools, foundations and philanthropies.

Also startling are the racial disparities, Shelton said. Together African American and African-born people make up about 4 percent of the adult population in Minnesota but 41 percent of the state’s homeless.

A tough economic landscape, including joblessness, casts a dark shadow across this population, as you’ll see in Wilder’s March analysis as reported here and expanded on in the current report.

Some highlights
Below you’ll find a few weighty nuggets of information from the study, which can be read in more detail here.

• Increase in homeless youth ages 12 to 21 grew 26 percent from the last single-night count in 2006, to 1,268.

• Adults who have been homeless for at least a year tend to have one or more additional hurdles, including serious mental illness, a chronic health condition, cognitive disability, traumatic brain injury or drug or alcohol dependency.

• Sixty-three percent of homeless adults reported food stamp use, the highest percent ever since Wilder started this count.

• Almost half of homeless adults have been in state or federal prison, a local jail or juvenile detention center at some point.

• Homeless adults counted in greater Minnesota now make up 32 percent of the statewide count, a steadily increasing trend since they made up 20 percent in 1991.

Some of the increase in numbers of rural homeless may, however, be due to better methods of finding and counting this population, explained Liz Kuoppala, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, who lives in Eveleth.

It’s harder to find people living in the woods in northern Minnesota and count them than counting the homeless in a metro shelter, Kuoppala said.

Yet she still believes the numbers are low. “We’re very certain it’s an undercount, but I think it’s getting closer to accurate.”