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Joint Heading Home Hennepin project trying to keep up with needs of homeless

Heading Home
This year, more than 1,600 families will be served by Heading Home Hennepin, a joint Minneapolis-Hennepin County project designed to eliminate homelessness by 2016.

The lower-level apartment in Northeast Minneapolis filled with water every time it rained, forcing the young tenants to sandbag their bed with a ring of towels when they headed off to work on a cloudy day. There was mold in the walls. Their rent was $650 a month.

When it was clear their landlord had no interest in making the needed repairs, they spent their own money trying to keep out the water. Because they were spending their own money on repairs, they stopped paying rent.

The landlord, who had ignored their request for repairs, quickly evicted them.

And just as quickly, they discovered that trying to rent another place to live with an eviction on their record was next to impossible.

They also discovered that there are very few options for a homeless family of four.

This year, more than 1,600 families will be served by Heading Home Hennepin, a joint Minneapolis-Hennepin County project designed to eliminate homelessness by 2016.

That 2012 number is nearly double the number of homeless families served in 2006, when the project was started.

“We have fallen short with families,” Lisa Thornquist told members of the Minneapolis City Council during a Tuesday briefing on homelessness. She is the research and project evaluation coordinator for the joint project’s Office to End Homelessness.

The annual count of families in shelters, which takes place every year on Aug. 15, found 224 families in shelters, compared with 105 families in 2006.

“No shelter would help us,” said Corbin Feather Earring, the father and husband of the family evicted from the leaking apartment in Northeast Minneapolis. One of the reasons there was no help is that he had a job and a paycheck at the time of the eviction. 

The family ended up at the former Drake Hotel at the edge of downtown Minneapolis for $800 a month. That’s when St. Stephen’s Human Services stepped in with $300 a month to help with the rent and, ultimately, assistance in finding an apartment they could afford in south Minneapolis.

“We will be spending Christmas at our home,” said Stephanie Cathches after testifying about their situation before the City Council. She, Corbin and their two small children are now living in a two-bedroom apartment for $850 a month. She is also working, so the family now has two paychecks.

“It’s safe,” she says of their new home. “My kids have a place to move around.”

When Heading Home Hennepin started, unemployment was less than 4 percent and the vacancy rate for rental housing was also about 4 percent.

Back in 2006, an efficiency apartment in Minneapolis rented for $200 a month. Today it costs $800, if available. The current vacancy rate is about 2 percent.

“We have people who are very poor in this community,” said Mikkel Beckmen, executive director of St. Stephen’s Human Services. “The shelters are more than full. This is a crisis.”

It is especially a crisis for families and for young singles.

There are currently only 66 beds available for Minneapolis youth, with a need for 10 times that number on a nightly basis. The youth designation covers those between 18 and 24 and includes many single mothers. An estimated 40 percent of the families seeking shelter are headed by a woman under the age of 25.

Many of those young people end up at spending their nights at the Salvation Army, where the goal is to accept everyone seeking shelter, even if that means a night of sleeping in the chapel, according to Thornquist.

Two winter-only shelters were opened in December 2010 and will re-open this winter: at First Covenant Church downtown and River of Life Church in North Minneapolis. Those two facilities add 90 beds a night, bringing the total available to 878 in winter.

“We’ve appreciated the ability to open winter shelters,” Thornquist told council members.  Ironically, it was the council’s recent approval of opening the shelter at River of Life Church that inspired the need for the Council briefing on homelessness. 

“Some of the remarks from the public were alarming,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, who chaired the session. She said she was “a little bit taken aback” by some neighbors’ opposition to the shelter’s opening and vowed to bring the issue forward to explain the need.

“I hope they listen with open hearts,” said Cathches as she prepared to head home with her family afterward. “They need to give people hope and strength.”

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