Last Thursday, Simpson Housing was a co-sponsor of the League of Women Voters Forum on Heading Home Hennepin, the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in Hennepin County. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman gave opening comments that were actually quite thought-provoking and hopeful.
Mayor Rybak spoke of a young man who was experiencing homelessness who died. The young man’s sister is Chiffon, who is an advocate on the newly formed St. Stephen’s Outreach Team that goes into the camps or anywhere homeless people could be and works at getting them into housing.
Elizabeth Hinz, the liaison for homeless and highly mobile children in the Minneapolis school system spoke. She fought back the tears as she spoke of her work with the children. Every public school in the nation is required by law to have a coordinator, such as Elizabeth. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act and the Minneapolis Public Schools district policy afford these kids rights and protections. These include the right to attend school and to attend the school the child was in before becoming homeless. Also, a child can attend school without a permanent address and to attend and participate in programs with children who are not homeless.
Monica Nilson brought up the point that we could all have the phone numbers of our elected officials programmed into our cell phones. I recently heard that it is a generally accepted belief that an elected official views a phone call from a constituent as representing 100 constituents. That is rather empowering. I don’t exactly recall the statistics she cited, Monica also made the point that housing a person is the most economical (and humane) way to give them a place to lay their head. A trip to the emergency room, detox, or the E.R. is far more expensive and inhumane.
Several individuals who have experienced homelessness spoke. Thursday was a day that homelessness in the Twin Cities made the news. The city of Plymouth opened up its waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers. 3,700 people showed up to compete for 300 spots on the waiting list. This is only the waiting list that they are trying to get on. When St. Paul did this last year, 11,000 people vied for spaces. The Metropolitan Council received 25,000 requests for 5,000 spots.
The StarTribune reported that experts agree that these long lines indicate a larger crisis in lack of affordable housing. Wages have not kept up with rising rents in the metro area. In 2006, one in eight Minnesota households were paying half of its income on housing, according to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. That’s up from one in fifteen in 2000. Minnesota renters are worse off: one in four were paying half of its income on housing. To make matters worse, the Federal government has been decreasing housing subsidies.
So where is the encouragement? Thousands of individuals who are committed to ending homelessness and thousands of stories of individuals who have found housing. Go to the Simpson housing website for stories.