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Approved bill would provide $55 million annually for homeless families

A St. Paul homeless encampment pictured in 2018. House Photography file photo
A St. Paul homeless encampment pictured in 2018. House Photography file photo

To help the thousands of Minnesota students and families who experience homelessness, $55 million could be dedicated each year to family homelessness prevention and assistance.

Sponsored by Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-Mpls), HF1791 would make the funds available to counties in 2022 and beyond, depending on how many homeless students they have.

Counties could use the money or distribute it to cities, Native American tribes and community-based nonprofits, which are also eligible for funds, but those dollars would need to go to help homeless youth and families with grades pre-K-12 students who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Projects could include rental assistance, support and case management services and connecting families with social services.

The bill was approved along party lines Wednesday by the House Preventing Homelessness Division and referred to the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. It doesn't have a Senate companion.

In 2019, Minnesota's public and charter schools recorded 9,060 homeless students. Students experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience developmental delays, face physical and mental health problems and have increased exposure to violence or suffer from stress, depression and trauma, according to materials included with the budget proposal made by Gov. Tim Walz in late January.

They're also more likely to repeat a grade, be chronically absent, have frequent school changes and have higher rates of disciplinary actions. In addition, homeless students demonstrate third-grade reading proficiency at rates less than half those of the general student population and substantially below their low–income, but housed, counterparts.

In 2019, the Legislature gave a $3.5 million base appropriation to the Housing Finance Agency's Homework Starts with Home grant program, which provides rental assistance to highly mobile families with school-aged children.

Walz is recommending an additional $1 million for the program in the 2022-23 biennium, which his administration says would serve 185 more families.

Gomez said $55 million would help up to 10,000 families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness each year.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) lauded the focus on child homelessness but is concerned about starting a permanent and relatively expensive program without more information.

An amendment she offered, then withdrew, would have made $25 million available for family homelessness programs in 2022 and 2023 and required a state report on the program.

Gomez said she's open to adding reporting requirements.

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