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Housing stability program takes focus with state budget surplus

More than $1 billion in proposed spending over the next three fiscal years is part of Gov. Tim Walz’s housing stability package.

The Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness presented a report to the House Preventing Homelessness Division on Wednesday during an informational hearing that helped outline the need for more funding as the state is forecast to enjoy a projected $7.7 billion budget surplus.

Walz’s plan includes 35 proposals from six state agencies along with 19 new programs to address housing stability.

House Preventing Homelessness Division 2/2/22

“One of the cores of what I think we need to do this year, in a time of huge surplus, is that we have a chance to really make a difference in the system that has been underfunded for so long,” said Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-Mpls), the division chair. “One of those pieces is the fact that in Greater Minnesota in many areas, even in regional population centers, there’s little to no infrastructure for emergency homelessness response.”

While homelessness dropped in Minnesota from 2014-2020 by 5%, according to the report, the rate of unsheltered homeless has risen 145%.

Of those, American Indians are 24 times more likely to experience homelessness than white, non-Hispanic people. The rate for Black or African American Minnesotans is seven times higher than the white, non-Hispanic population.

Cathy ten Broeke, the council’s assistant commissioner and executive director, said its new orientation is not just in creating programs and promoting equity, but to achieve housing, racial and health justice for the homeless.

“Essentially, moving away from just simply creating programs that target people experiencing homelessness to really, frankly, identifying homelessness as a form of injustice,” ten Broeke said. “To really identify that homelessness is rooted in historic racial housing and homelessness policies, and current policies. And, frankly, that housing instability is not just an individual issue, but, frankly, a public health issue and should be treated as a public health issue as we’ve learned very well during this pandemic.”

Vaccination rates for COVID-19 among homeless people in the state fall far below the rates for the general public. According to the council, just 42% of homeless people have received their first vaccination, 35% have completed the series of vaccinations and only 11% have received a booster.

“We are really seeing this impact shelters,” said Elizabeth Dressel, the council’s implementation coordinator and equity specialist. “Many of these settings are congregate in nature and people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk for having chronic, underlying health conditions that make them at risk for more severe illness.”

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