To End Homelessness, We Must Work Together

By January 27, 2014Foundation Blog

Housing

WRITTEN BY CATHY TEN BROEKE, MINNESOTA’S DIRECTOR TO PREVENT AND END HOMELESSNESS

Tonight, over 10,000 Minnesotans will be homeless.  Half of them will be children.

Safe and stable housing is simply out of reach for far too many in our state.  In addition to the more than 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, another 248,000 are paying more than half of their income on their housing.

The impacts of this instability are felt by all of us, especially the nearly 13,000 school children who were homeless or highly mobile at some point during the last school year and the teachers and parents who want these children to succeed.  Achievement gaps for homeless students emerge early and persist or worsen.  If we are serious about improving educational achievement and reducing the achievement gap, we must address housing instability and homelessness.

Over the past year, I have had the honor of working with the commissioners and senior staff of eleven state agencies, the Chief of Staff from the Governor’s office, and a broad community of stakeholders and partners to create Heading Home: Minnesota’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

The newly re-formed State Interagency Council on Homelessness is co-chaired by Housing Commissioner, Mary Tingerthal and the Department of Human Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson.  They are joined by the Commissioners of Education, Employment and Economic Development, Public Safety, Health, Human Rights, Higher Education, Corrections, Veteran’s Affairs, and Transportation.  Each of these Commissioners understands that housing stability is a critical platform for achieving so many of the outcomes we want for Minnesotans, whether improving educational outcomes, strengthening our workforce, improving public safety, or improving health.

Jackson Elementary School in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood was host to the December 19 press conference announcing this plan.  Commissioner Tingerthal and Commissioner Jesson led the roster of speakers supporting the Plan, which included Brenda Casselius, Commissioner of Education; Carleen Rhodes, President of the St. Paul Foundation; Chris Coleman, Mayor of St. Paul; and Betsy Hodges, Mayor-Elect of Minneapolis.  The audience included not only the press and interested observers/advocates but also members of the School’s Student Council. For a heartwarming story about their reaction, see Commissioner Ehlinger’s blog.  The StarTribune also produced an editorial commending the plan.

The Minnesota Interagency Council has identified twelve strategies and associated actions that the State can take that will have the biggest impact on preventing and ending homelessness for Minnesota families and individuals over the next two years.  I believe this plan will not only end homelessness for more Minnesotans by increasing investments in affordable and supportive housing, but I believe it will also substantially prevent more homelessness by addressing some of the most significant barriers to maintaining housing stability, such as access to employment and training, child care, mental health care, transportation, and early childhood programs.

As someone who has worked on the issue of homelessness for 20 years, here is what gives me hope…

We are building on our success and going much further.  In 2004, there was a statewide plan developed to end long-term homelessness.  That plan included a goal of creating 4,000 supportive housing opportunities for people who have experienced long-term homelessness.  As of 2013, the state has financed those 4,000 housing opportunities and the numbers of people experiencing long-term homelessness in our state has gone down.  Minnesota is also leading the nation in ending homelessness among Veterans.   We are committed to finishing the job of ending Veteran and chronic homelessness.

We are turning our collective focus to preventing and ending homelessness for families, children, and youth.  We will work with schools to improve outcomes for homeless and highly mobile students.  We will create new supportive housing opportunities for the most vulnerable families and provide them with the support necessary to maintain their housing and ensure that the developmental needs of young children are met.  We will focus on improving the transitions young people face when they leave foster care, juvenile corrections, or other systems and we will connect youth to the services they need to ensure their long-term stability.

This state plan is full of concrete, specific actions state agencies will take over the next two years.  This is an action plan with timelines and performance measurements.  We know we cannot prevent and end homelessness without our federal and local partners, and we will continue to build and support those partnerships.  But, we have identified what the state can and will do to help lead the way toward our goals. And I am heartened that a group of highly engaged foundations are exploring ways to partner with the state to move the plan forward.

Ending and preventing homelessness in our state will require all of us to work together ensure the safety net is strong for those vulnerable individuals and families at risk of finding themselves without a home. We’ve made progress since the first state plan was developed in 2004. What is unprecedented is the level of coordination and commitment of these eleven state agencies and the high-level structure at the state to make these policy and systemic changes a reality.  Real and significant change is possible.

As Minnesota’s Director to Prevent and End Homelessness, Cathy ten Broeke oversees the state’s response to homelessness by working with multiple state agencies, community partners, and private stakeholders to create a statewide partnership to end homelessness. She has 20 years of experience working on homelessness in both the nonprofit and government sectors. Prior to this position, she served as Director of the Minneapolis/Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness and as a Special Advisor to the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.  Cathy has a Masters Degree in Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.