Homelessness in Hennepin County

Links to Related materials and commentary at the end of this page.

In 2004 Minnesota launched an effort to end homelessness, joining similar state efforts across the nation. The genesis for this effort was the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s 
A Plan, Not a Dream: How to End Homelessness in Ten Years.  Drawing on a wide variety of efforts, experiences and programs from a wide range of sources, the plan purportedly set forth a blue print to end homelessness in a decade. In 2001, the Bush Administration, in collaboration with the  Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), launched an initiative to end chronic homelessness. A revivified US Inter-agency Council on Homelessness (USICH) challenged cities and municipalities to develop 10 year plans to end homelessness in their respective locales.

Minnesota responded with its aforementioned initial 10 Year Plan, a business plan, in 2006 though considerable work was done in preparation prior to its issuance. In March, 2004 The Minnesota Department of Human Services (MNDHS), Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) and Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MNHFA) issued, ENDING LONG-TERM HOMELESSNESS IN MINNESOTA Report and Business Plan of the Working Group on Long-Term Homelessness which was submitted to the State Legislature. Over the course of the next two years, the State tasked Counties and Municipalities to produce 10 Year Plans of their own.

American Shame

American Shame

The Wilder Foundation, which conducts surveys and has produced a copious body of research on homelessness in Minnesota, indicated that in 2006 they estimated that the number of people that were homeless in the State that year stood between 9,200 and 9,300. In 2015, the Wilder Foundation’s survey estimated that 9,312 homeless people in the State–this number derived from a count conducted on October 22, 2015. More recent indicators point to yet still further increases during the course of 2016 and many shelter advocates and watch organizations are now citing an inability to provide emergency shelter services for the large numbers of people seeking help.

Funding Streams: Federal and Other Sources

While homeless providers and many of those working for in a professional advocacy are wont to give rather vague and generalized reasons for the failure of the State’s 10 Year Plan one cannot help but question. An example of such answers would be to assert that the Federal challenge was not mandated (meaning it didn’t provide funding for efforts). Yet this is not an assertion one can reasonably deem veracious. Quite the contrary. In fact, enormous federal funding was allocated for efforts to end homelessness, including the following;

  • Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRRP): This was authorized on February 17, 2009 as part of  the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and it authorized $1.5 billion for homeless prevention.
  • American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009): Solely considering the amount of funding allocated for programs administered by the State of Minnesota (not counting funds allocated to privately run companies or non-profits) the total, as of March, 2011, stood at $5.9 billion. This amount includes such programs as unemployment Insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medical Assistance. An additional 4.9 billion in individual tax benefits were projected for the State during the course of the three following years.
  • Veterans Funding for Housing such as HUD-VASH and HVRP: Running parallel to the aforementioned federal funding streams and stemming from out of former VA Secretary Shinseki’s Plan to end Homelessness among veterans and their families by the end of 2016, the Veterans Administration poured funding into a variety of programs. In addition to the programs mentioned the Veterans Administration also launched the VA-VJO initiative (Veterans Justice Outreach) in 2008. In 2015 alone, the Veterans Administration allocated the Minnesota Public Housing Agency of the City of St Paul $162,378 for 25 vouchers; and for the City of Minneapolis for $298,128 for 50 vouchers. 

There were many other Federal, State and Local or Municipal funding allocations aside from those cited above between 2006-2016. While some were not implicitly related to the issue of homelessness they bore a direct relationship, as multiple sources attest, to the problem. For example, the Second Chance Act. The Second Chance Act provided funding to States and Municipalities to assist people exiting correctional settings for successful reentry into society. As our justice system has been, for decades, one of the principal feeder systems for the problem of homelessness the links are beyond dispute. In addition to the Veterans Administration, Stimulus Funding Sources and HUD other Federal Agencies dedicated very large amounts of funding with similar correlations or links to the problem of homelessness, among them, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) and the Department of Labor (DOL).

In summation, to argue that the State of Minnesota and its municipalities failed not only to “end homelessness” or even chronic homelessness in 10 years due to a lack of Federal funding is to argue against a damning body of evidence to the contrary. In addition to the Federal funding allocated both directly to programs ostensibly dealing with the issue, additional funds from all levels of government in the State were also thrown at the problem—and these amounts exceeded the tens of millions over the course of the decade in question. How much? Oddly, if you want that information you’ll have to dig for it yourself for there’s no one report or accounting that will tell you. By even the most modest of estimates it is no exaggeration to aver that the total amount of funding spent on homelessness directly or on programs dealing with the primary causes of the problem must’ve run into the hundreds of millions of dollars  over the ten year period. There’s just no arguing that.

So, Given the Colossal Resources Expended, What Happened?

How is it possible to expend such colossal sums of money and end up with more homeless people at the end of the 10 Year Plan than you had at inception? The professional advocacy caste whose charge it was to fix this problem will often provide explanations that are pat and formulaic. An example would be the endlessly repeated, “well, it’s a very complex problem”. Yeah, well no shit. Of course it’s a complex problem or set of problems. Nonetheless, for the same crowd to argue that they should be trusted for another ten years seems dubious, at best. How do you assert that you’re effective when you are literally handed hundreds of millions of dollars and you manage to make the problem worse, not better.

There are many advocates across the country who have used the term “homeless-industrial complex” to describe the entrenched, well-paid and obviously not very effective group who continues, year after year and in spite of continuing failure, to pull the strings and call the shots. Minnesota is no exception. The same people offer the same excuses and the same courses of action endlessly and the remarkable thing is that they are allowed to continue to control the issue and programs.

Hennepin County: A Micro-Examination of Failure for Purposes of Illustration

In August, 2017 Margaret Hastings, a long-time advocate for the homeless and a mental health professional contacted the site-owner and discussions began following the appearance of a number of articles in the media which covered the dismal showing at the end of Hennepin County’s 10 Year Plan. There were many questions: How did this happen? How much did it cost? Why did it fail? Why can’t members of the public find answers to some very basic questions about the Plan and those responsible for its orchestration. The County’s Office to End Homelessness’s web-site offers paltry explanation or answers to such questions. Basic information is simply not presented.

For anyone with even a basic level of ability in the administration of web-based technologies and the construction of web-sites an immediate reaction is one of wonderment. Apparently, four full-time staff, well-paid staff at that, in 10 Years with the resources and funding at their disposal came up with this? Anyone with basic training in setting up and running a Word-Press site could literally set up and populate a more appealing and useful site over the course of one day. This Blog posting is longer and more closely referenced than the landing page of the Office’s site. It is both insulting and mind-boggling. Really, in ten years this is what you managed to come up with? Unlike many another web-site, one cannot even reference who works in the office.

The closer one looks, the more questions proliferate. The Office makes a series of unfounded claims and assertions such as the attribution of the problem to a tornado which swept North Minneapolis, “destroying most of the affordable housing of the region”. An absurd and wholly unsupported claim.

Out of Questions and Discussions, a Plan of Action

Given the lack of transparency and information, a plan of action was decided upon. Margaret and the owner of this site (a former Commission Member, former Board Member of the MN Coalition for the Homeless, Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans and Senior Justice Fellow with Soros-OSI) decided that something would need to be done.

With the assistance of the indefatigable Director of Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB), Michelle Gross, an Open Records and Data Request was authored and submitted to the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness on September 5, 2017. In addition to this request, FOIA requests have been submitted to a variety of Federal Agencies, including the Veterans Administration (VA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA).

This web-site will provide a running chronicle of efforts to find the information which is not publicly available. All records requests and subsequent responses will be posted here along with a variety of resources for public use. This effort is going to take some time and considerable effort, but we will obtain answers. Unlike the Office to End Homelessness, we will make critical information available to the public….and leave it up to them to decide whether or not the colossal expenditures were justified…or not.  We will also ask the questions that need to be asked.