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Report highlights growing number of homeless seniors in Minnesota

Hiawatha Avenue homeless encampment
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The rise in the number of people sleeping outdoors became a high-profile issue in Minneapolis last year, when a narrow strip of land along Hiawatha Avenue eventually became home to some 300 people in tents.
Housing researchers just reported the state of Minnesota has a bigger homeless problem than they’ve ever seen. And the state’s lack of affordable housing and emergency shelters is hitting one age demographic particularly hard: Residents over the age of 55.

According to Wilder Research which conducts counts of people sleeping in vehicles, shelters, tent encampments, outside or on trains every three years — the number of homeless seniors in Minnesota is rising at a rate faster than any other age group.

Researchers released Minnesota’s newest count this week, showing an increase of about 25 percent among homeless seniors since 2015, though the group represents just 10 percent of the state’s homeless population.

The core reasons for Minnesota’s rising number of homeless seniors which totaled 1,054 people in the recent count are the same as those perpetuating housing disparities nationwide: low apartment vacancy rates, increasing rents and the rate at which public and private developers build affordable housing. “We are losing affordable housing faster than we can build it, in terms of the bonding bills and the work that’s being done,” Steve Horsfield, executive director of Simpson Housing. “The increase (in homeless people overall) directly correlates to an increase in the number of people who are not sheltered.”

Efforts to help older homeless people are often made more challenging by a complex range of health problems, research shows. Between substance-abuse issues, chronic diseases and mental-health illnesses, recent studies have found that people over the age of 55 without permanent homes have needs similar to people with homes who are 10 to 20 years older.

There are also severe racial disparities among homeless seniors across Minnesota. Even though only about two percent of Minnesota’s seniors are black, they made up one-third of the state’s homeless adults age 55 and older, according to a 2015 Wilder Research study. Native Americans, meanwhile, account for 7 percent of all homeless older adults, even though they make up less than one percent of the state’s senior population.

The latest Wilder Research report — the result of volunteers counting the state’s homeless people on Oct. 25 — is preliminary and does not include respondents’ racial identification. Senta Leff, the executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, said project leaders will release specific details from the survey in coming months.

Big rise in number of people sleeping outside, too

The latest increase in Minnesota’s homeless seniors continues a trend that spans years. Since 2009, the number of people over the age of 55 sleeping in tents, cars, shelters or other places has doubled, according to the data provided by Wilder Research. Among counties, Hennepin County tallied the most homeless seniors: 500 — compared to fewer than 300 nine years prior. “People should be alarmed and activated,” Leff said. “Housing is a basic form of infrastructure it’s a necessary ingredient for healthcare, for local economies.”

Simpson Housing’s Horsfield said he’s noticed increased demand for help ranging from emergency shelter to social services among seniors in recent years. “We knew that was going to be the case. We’ve got people aging. Baby boomers suffered when the economy collapsed,” he said. “Folks who are feeling the benefits of the (improving) economy and those who are not that disparity continues to grow.”

The Wilder report found other notable trends among Minnesota’s homeless population. Among them: that the number of people sleeping under bridges, alongside roads or in vehicles anywhere outside — has more than doubled since 2015. That’s because the state’s homeless shelters are often at capacity. In addition, said Leff, the majority of counties throughout Minnesota do not offer any type of fixed-site emergency spots, leaving hundreds of people with no place to go. “There’s a dangerous spike among the people who can’t even get into a cot on the floor,” she said.

The rise in the number of people sleeping outdoors became a high-profile issue in Minneapolis last year, when a narrow strip of land along Hiawatha Avenue eventually became home to some 300 people living in tents.

In response to the Hiawatha encampment, tribal and city leaders built a temporary navigation center near the camp for its residents to live over the winter, while social-service agencies try to find them permanent housing. Some 100 people remain there now, Horsfield said. The goal is to find all of them homes before the center’s closure on May 31.

The amount of people who used emergency shelters in both Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metro grew by about one-third since 2009, the Wilder data show.

Leff and and other housing-rights activists are now asking legislators for $15 million per biennium in state dollars to boost Minnesota’s emergency services program, which funds services for homeless people. They are also asking for an increase in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, which provides cash assistance to families and she said has remained at the same funding level since 1986.

“Shelters are overburdened,” she said. “Basic safety-net services have stayed exactly where they are three decades ago, and the cost of housing is significantly higher.”

As part of his budget, Gov. Tim Walz has proposed spending $284 million for affordable housing. The governor also promised this week that the state will eliminate homelessness for military veterans by the end of this year, which would make Minnesota the fourth state to do so.

Numbers certainly higher

Overall, Wilder Research found 10,233 homeless people in Minnesota, the highest number since the foundation began counting nearly three decades ago.

Because many homeless people stay in hard-to-reach places or avoid the project all together, however, the Wilder numbers offer a broad snapshot of the state’s homeless population. Housing-rights activists say the true number of homeless people in Minnesota is surely higher.

One of those activists is Jordan May, who runs the Red Lake Nation homeless shelter in north-central Minnesota a region where the homeless population has grown by about 50 percent since 2009, according to the Wilder data. Overall, homelessness in Greater Minnesota has increased by roughly 7 percent over nine years, compared to an increase of about 5 percent in the seven-county metro region.

May has run the shelter since 2009, he said, offering seven rooms and 18 beds for homeless people on a temporary basis. He said he is applying for grants to expand its level of services, including onsite treatment for substance abuse, to meet the area’s growing demand.

“In certain areas (like the reservation), there’s just not enough employment. There are certain people with a criminal history and some people are fighting addiction  that’s been a part of the increase … or there are different barriers to transportation,” he said.  “There’s just not enough housing out there.”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Sharon Anderson on 03/23/2019 - 09:42 am.

    Disparity Muslin Sharia Law Takeover
    Supreme Court of the United States
    Nielsen v. Preap
    Term: 2018
    Important Dates
    Argument: October 10, 2018
    Decided: March 19, 2019
    Samuel Alito • Chief Justice John G. Roberts • Neil Gorsuch • Brett Kavanaugh • Clarence Thomas
    Brett Kavanaugh • Clarence Thomas • Neil Gorsuch
    Stephen Breyer • Ruth Bader Ginsburg • Sonia Sotomayor • Elena Kagan

    Nielsen v. Preap was a case argued during the October 2018 term of the U.S. Supreme Court. Argument in the case took place on October 10, 2018. The Court reversed and remanded the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, holding that the mandatory detention provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act still applies to defendants even if they are not detained immediately after being released from criminal custody. The case came on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. It was originally accepted to be heard during the October 2017 term but was deferred.

    The case: Under the mandatory detention provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the government is required to detain noncitizen U.S. residents who were convicted of certain crimes “when…released” from criminal custody. The government had relied on this provision to begin detaining lawful permanent residents years after their release from criminal custody. Three filed suit, alleging that because they were not detained immediately when they were released from criminal custody, the government could not rely on the mandatory detention provision to hold them without bond. The Ninth Circuit agreed, ruling that the mandatory detention provision only applies to noncitizens who are detained by immigration authorities promptly following their release from criminal custody.
    The issue: “Whether a criminal alien becomes exempt from mandatory detention under 8 U.S.C. 1226(c) if, after the alien is released from criminal custody, the Department of Homeland Security does not take him into immigration custody immediately.”[1]
    The outcome: The Court reversed and remanded the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, holding that the mandatory detention provision of the Immigration and Naturalization Act still applies to defendants even if they are not detained immediately after being released from criminal custody.

    You can review the lower court’s opinion here.[2]

  2. Submitted by Don Evanson on 03/23/2019 - 02:12 pm.

    The poor will always be among us.

    That said, it seems that if we would stop conditioning individuals of group identity to a victim mentality, that they get locked up in and lean one, we would see such individuals do better overall with their lives.

    This article perpetuates that victimization mentality.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/24/2019 - 12:37 am.

      “The poor you always have with you” is a saying of Jesus, but one that is often misinterpreted. It does NOT mean “Always make sure that some people are poor, and don’t do anything to help them.”

      The context is that a woman has anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfumes and oils, and Judas (yes, that Judas) objects and says that she should have spent the money on the poor.

      That is when Jesus says, according to the King James version: “For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.”

      In other words, don’t use the poor as an excuse for something you don’t want to do or disapprove of. It certainly does not mean “Poverty is inevitable, so don’t do anything about it.”

      By the way, it is immediately after this incident that Judas runs off and starts plotting to betray Jesus.

      Another Biblical passage that right-wingers misuse is “He who does not work shall not eat.”

      They like to lob it at anyone who talks about improving the social safety net, as if they think that the poor and vulnerable are “useless eaters.”

      In fact, these words of the Apostle Paul–and their later use by Captain John Smith in Jamestown–mean precisely the opposite.

      Paul was talking about wealthy people who joined Christian communities and expected those of lesser social status to wait on them.

      This is what Captain John Smith faced in Jamestown. Some of his band of settlers were spoiled rich youths, along strictly for the adventures, and they wanted to loll around while other people built cabins and planted crops.

      Neither man was talking about the poor.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 03/24/2019 - 03:35 pm.

      Yes, there will always be poor among us and also people exploiting people and unfair distribution of resources. Yes there are lots of housing programs and we need to help people early on have the tools to provide for themselves and we need less replication of the same programs with high paying managers. That said, we need a living wage and most people don’t realize social security and if they even get a pension is not going to pay the rent mortgage. Studies show companies fewer and fewer even provide pensions and you need money to play the stock market which is tough to do when housing costs are high. So no we don’t just throw out hands up, we demand better.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 03/24/2019 - 08:51 am.

    There are multiple housing programs, both public and private, to help folks who want housing. The problem is not more money, it is drug abuse and mental illness.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/25/2019 - 11:57 am.

      I know seniors who are in danger of homelessness, due to rent increases or cases in which the landlord evicts all the existing tenants in order to remodel the apartments and attract wealthier tenants.

      I have learned from talking to these people that the waiting list for city subsidized housing is two years.

      None of these people I know abuse alcohol or drugs.

      Stop being so simplistic with your assumption that anyone who is in trouble must have done something wrong. Life doesn’t work that way.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 03/25/2019 - 01:05 pm.

        Statistics show 68% of single homeless folks are abusing alcohol or drugs. So 7 out of 10 are substance abusers add in mental health issues and the majority of folks living on the streets suffer from these two illnesses.

        • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/25/2019 - 10:10 pm.

          If you’d ever worked with homeless youth, you’d know that the drug and alcohol use often starts AFTER the young person becomes homeless. It’s a form of self-medication for the severe depression that results from having to struggle every day. Many homeless youth, by the way, are fleeing severe abuse or were actually kicked out of the house for being gay or simply because their parents didn’t want the responsibility.

          I’m not talking about people who became homeless BECAUSE they were late-stage alcoholics and drug addicts.

          The seniors who are in danger of homelessness are not alcoholics or drug addicts. Not now, at least. Who knows what might happen if they are in deep despair about ending up on the streets after a lifetime of doing everything right?

          And mental illness? That’s not a moral failing.

          Addiction and mental illness are not reasons to throw a person on the scrap heap. In fact, Salt Lake City and other communities that have instituted “housing first” programs find that both these problems are more easily treated if the person has some stability in life.

  4. Submitted by R. M. Ramsay on 03/24/2019 - 01:54 pm.

    There are a multitude of reasons for homelessness. Mental Illness, Chemical abuse, unemployment, not having a livable/living wage paycheck, to simple hardships that Life brings. But those of us who have experienced any of that – or come close – understand what that feels like, and perhaps are in the best position to have Empathy to those that for whatever reason are less fortunate….by design, or happenstance.
    Here’s a hint – always have Gratitude, be Humble, for the blessing of a roof and food on your table….every day – even for just a moment.

  5. Submitted by Karl Hodgson on 05/08/2019 - 10:16 pm.

    I’ve struggled all my life as most do and count myself lucky compared to most. I could go on about how our “system” creates the homeless and most people would rather ignore them but if people who do care about others actually did something simple like take a homeless person in or just talk to them rather than ignore them it would make a big difference. Right now the US “economy” stinks and politicians just suck money all day and don’t care except for your votes-both parties. I’ve been homeless and have dined with CEO’s and been all over the world it’s just the haves and have nots and is more ruthless today with more people. You’ll be rewarded ten times over helping people rather than taking and screwing others but you do have to take care of yourself first. The corporate criminals(and they are!) fleece the masses like the common stockholders, employees and have stolen their pensions they never paid their share into and now they have cut everything for the poorest folks including social security. The Main media touts total BS about “the economy” using fraudulent numbers and we have psychopaths for “leaders” who feel that stealing and crushing decent folks who never had a seat at the table is just great? You’d be surprised at how bad things can get even for folks doing well right now. All most want is to clear them away using thug police tactics but America is better than that and I still have the “dream” even if most don’t. I’ve taken in homeless to keep them from freezing and give them money-they need it! Don’t believe anything the “government” says or “experts” or police or politicians just be kind and don’t turn away. I suppose we will always have criminals, psychopathic “leaders” and the money lenders and mafias who I grew up around but compassion isn’t a dirty word and most so-called “leaders” should be in prison not the poor. It is what it is but all you can do is be kind and help in small ways like pay it forward as we don’t run the world.

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