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Hard-to-Find Folks Make MN Homeless Count a Challenge



January 26, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - Volunteers in Minnesota and across the country will spend one night this week counting and surveying homeless people, on the streets, in shelters and at soup kitchens, and even in jails. In last year's one-night count, the Minnesota total was about 9,000. Over 500 of them were veterans.

President Obama and General Eric Shinseki, who heads the Department of Veterans Affairs, recently declared that they have 'zero tolerance' for homelessness among vets. But Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, says it's a population that is not easy to serve and, sometimes, not easy to find.

"Many, many veterans don't go into shelters. They're shelter-resistant; they have the ability to stay out in tent cities and encampments. So, they're going to be a hard population to enumerate, but if your goal is 'zero tolerance,' you're obligated to find out what that number is."

Donovan is also concerned that this year's count won't reflect a growing category of homeless people, those staying with relatives or friends temporarily, after a foreclosure or job loss.

The one-night count is used by the federal government to develop housing policies and allocate money for service providers to the homeless. Critics say it is unscientific, dependent on such factors as the weather on the night of the count. But Donovan calls it an important tool nonetheless.

"If we are to aim towards the goal of ending homelessness, with the assumption that it is caused by a lack of affordable and accessible housing and jobs that pay a living wage, we need to know what the size of the population is."

Most cities do their one-night counts this Wednesday or Thursday. The results should be released this spring.

Veterans' figures by state are from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at
www.nchv.org

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN
 

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