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State Plan to End Homelessness Falling Short of Six-Year Goal

August 10, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota is in the final months of its first-ever formal plan to end long-term homelessness. But the ambitious six-year plan is falling short of its goal of providing 4,000 housing opportunities. The initiative was actually ahead of its goal in 2008, but progress started slowing last year, says Laura Kadwell, state director for ending long-term homelessness.

"The fact that we have not been able to reach our goal is largely a function of the tightening of the economy at all levels, in the government sector, in the philanthropic sector and so on."

To date, over 2,800 housing opportunities have been funded. Kadwell has spent the last few months gathering feedback from state agencies and social service organizations to address the housing shortfall. Regional plans are in place statewide, with additional county level initiatives in Hennepin, Ramsey, St. Louis, Anoka, Olmsted, Steele, Scott and Carver counties.

Kadwell says they count housing "opportunities" rather than just brick-and-mortar units, because when dealing with chronic homelessness, the solution means more than just providing a roof over someone's head.

"If you're homeless for a long time, it's more than just poverty. You could have a mental illness, you could have a chemical dependency issue, you could have a criminal background. All of these things make it hard for you to get into housing and maintain housing."

She says that mental health, vocational and social services are often paired with housing to ensure long-term success.

In these tight budget times, lawmakers have looked for ways to curb spending. For those who question the state's investment in ending long-term homelessness, Kadwell says, the alternative is more costly.

"Homelessness is expensive. We spend money on detox, we spend money on shelters, we spend money on emergency care. These are all ways in which as a community, we're spending money on homelessness."

Kadwell says that often, people housed under the plan have been homeless for as long as fifteen or twenty years. She says outreach is a critical factor because many have lost trust in the system, and people who represent the system. But once those barriers are overcome, great things happen.

"The thing is, you're investing in somebody's life. Many people who have been homeless for a long time, once they get into housing, they begin to ask themselves, what's next? People may need training of some kind, they may need help in actually locating jobs. But by and large, people want to be productive and contributing members of society."

Details on the state's plan to end long-term homelessness can be found at
www.headinghomeminnesota.org

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN