As the weather warms up, our commitment to housing endures
By Ann Mulholland, vice president of community impact
The Saint Paul & Minnesota Community Foundations
While we at The Saint Paul & Minnesota Community Foundations are always proud to support nonprofits working to provide affordable housing and human services through our grantmaking, we’re also grateful when we can play a role as a convener, bringing together groups and individuals across all sectors to drive community response to urgent needs and opportunities, as the Community Impact Framework that guides our actions calls on us to do.
Such has been the case with the community response to homelessness in Ramsey County, which increased 6.8 percent overall in 2017, while the total number of unsheltered people grew 22 percent compared with the previous year.
In an economy that has generated a strong housing market in the East Metro, why is the number of people who lack housing stability increasing?
Increasing property values and skyrocketing rent coupled with stagnant wages have pushed many families and individuals to the edge of housing instability or caused them to lose housing entirely. In response, the Foundations have worked in partnership on several initiatives to address homelessness, both in the short-term and the long-term, investing more than $1.2 million since 2016.
In response to changes in skyway hours and security, a key short-term effort included the Winter Safe Space (WSS), an emergency shelter that opened Dec. 1, 2017 to accommodate up to 50 people per night. Since December the WSS has provided safety and warmth to more than 550 people during our coldest months.
The Winter Safe Space will close on March 31, however, our longer-term efforts to address the needs of our homeless community will continue long after the weather warms up.
Since May 2017, we’ve worked with government and nonprofit organizations on the Re-Directing Users of Shelter to Housing (RUSH) Initiative, which seeks to connect high-frequency users of emergency shelter to stable housing, freeing up needed shelter space for those in short-term crisis situations. Since January 2017, 62 individuals out of the top 100 users of shelter at Higher Ground Saint Paul have been housed.
Realizing that the number of people who don’t seek emergency shelter and who live outdoors is also on the rise, we have also partnered on the Outside In Initiative, which seeks to increase outreach with unsheltered homeless and break down the barriers that keep them from connecting with services and housing.
We’re working with partners including Radias Health, People Inc. and Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, providing investments in social services and outreach capacity for those both in shelter and outdoors.
At the Foundations we are engaged at all points along the affordable housing continuum.
It’s vital as a community that we deliver the resources to increase housing opportunities for residents of the East Metro and across Minnesota, by maintaining our existing affordable housing stock, increasing the supply of new affordable housing, and providing critical services to those seeking to exit homelessness.
To stabilize and expand our supply of affordable housing in the East Metro, we’ve launched a $2M loan program in partnership with the F. R. Bigelow Foundation and affordable housing nonprofits CommonBond Communities and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity to provide Program Related Investments to support access to affordable rental housing and home ownership.
At this time of year, when growth and warmth are returning to the land, let’s recommit ourselves to working with patience and diligence for long-term solutions to homelessness. Let’s also recommit to seeing and embracing the humanity of the people who are in front of us and needing our help.