By Danielle Killey
Jen Peterson and her three young children left their home with no place to go when it got to be unsafe.
“My kids and I became homeless fleeing a marriage that had become dangerous,” the Cottage Grove City Council member said Thursday. That was more than two decades ago, but Peterson said there are many more like her and homelessness continues to be a major issue in Minnesota.
Housing advocates want more money from the state Legislature for homelessness and housing programs.
“Homelessness is affecting families in the cities, suburbs and greater Minnesota,” Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless director Liz Kuoppala said. “A stronger economy doesn’t mean homelessness is getting better.”
Homelessness in Minnesota is 6 percent higher than in 2009, according to a report released this week from the Wilder Foundation, an organization that conducts such research every three years.
“We still have a really significant problem on our hands,” study director Greg Owen said.
An October count revealed 10,214 homeless people throughout the state, and study organizers said that does not reach everyone. The count included those in shelters and transitional housing, at hot meal programs and other service locations.
The problem is not confined to the Twin Cities, but is not as recognized in rural areas, housing advocates said.
“The homeless are just invisible in our community,” said Red Wing HOPE Coalition director Kris Kvols, whose organization helps those struggling with homelessness, domestic abuse and other issues. “And that causes people to think homelessness doesn’t exist in rural areas.”
Greater Minnesota saw more homeless people and families outside the shelter system than three years ago while the Twin Cities metro area saw the opposite. Rural areas also had a greater increase in the number of those age 55 and older who do not have a place to live.
“Homelessness is not just an urban issue,” Peterson said.
The Homes for All Coalition, a group of housing and homelessness organizations issues, wants about $136.5 million in the state’s two-year budget for homelessness and housing programs. Those include transitional housing, investing in affordable rental housing and single-family homes and more assistance for young homeless people.
That’s about $50 million more than in Gov. Mark Dayton’s original $38 billion budget proposal and which programs would be funded differs slightly .
“We don’t have nearly enough money to serve the people we have,” Kvols said. “That $50 million would make a huge difference.”
Kuoppala said it is less expensive for the state to curb homelessness before it happens than to cover the programs and assistance that come after.
Almost half the homeless counted last fall were 21 years old or younger. The foundation says young people are most at risk for homelessness.
The number of two-parent families who are homeless also increased about 22 percent from 2009.
“We have not seen lots of couples before,” Owen said.
The coalition said the problems go beyond homelessness. In rural Minnesota there is a shortage of available rental housing, while in cities, the prices are being pushed too high for families, Kuoppala said. She said businesses looking to expand often find workforce housing, especially in rural areas, to be a stumbling block.