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Minnesota Homeless Report a "Mixed Bag"

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 By Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Contact
March 15, 2007

A new study by the Wilder Research Foundation of homeless Minnesotans in shelters and on the streets finds the state's homeless population isn't increasing, but their health is getting worse. Mark Peterson with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, which advocates for affordable housing, says the findings show we need a long-term solution.

"The most obvious solution to homelessness is to ensure that there is an adequate supply of affordable housing for people. There is not such a supply now, either in the Twin Cities or in Greater Minnesota."

The report finds that a quarter of the homeless have drug or alcohol problems, and over half have mental illnesses. Peterson notes there are proposals in the state Legislature for increased construction of low and moderate-income housing. He says, in human and economic terms, that's a good investment.

Peterson emphasizes that homelessness is a "vicious cycle."

"People who are homeless often find themselves isolated and alone, victims of domestic violence. People who have experienced other kinds of trauma. A growing number of homeless persons have earlier been in jail, and find enormous barriers to getting employment."

According to the report, over a third of the homeless are children, and a third of homeless women are escaping an abusive relationship. Homelessness is often just part of the problem.

"Many families also need other kinds of support. Some families have serious persistent mental illness. Many, many homeless children and homeless adults also have significant histories of domestic violence. And, those issues need to be cared for as well."

The report finds some shelters are now seeing Iraq War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders, similar to what happened after the Vietnam War.

The Wilder study of homeless Minnesotans been done, every three years, since 1991. More online at www.wilder.org.

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