Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On any given day, four new families in Hennepin County need a roof over their heads – that’s double from 2006.
Shantel is a mother in one of those families. She has a 7-year-old son and is living at the Minneapolis shelter People Serving People (PSP), which is literally bursting at the seams.
“We are doing what we can to make it work,” said PSP CEO Daniel Gumnit. “We have people sleeping in the library, conference rooms, we’re doubling up small families. Basically, we want to make sure people aren’t sleeping outside until we do what we can do.”
The homeless rate in Hennepin County is at a six year high, experts say. Each night, 500 families are in shelters and another 800 people are on the streets. AT PSP, they house 120 families in a space that’s meant to hold 100. Sixty percent of the people there are children. The average age? Five.
It’s there that Shantel (who didn’t want to give her last name) has been living for four months. They’ve given after-school tutoring to her son, helped her search for a job and a place to live. She wants to leave the shelter, but she’s having trouble finding any job beyond temping. She’s also had a hard time finding an affordable place to live.
“It is very expensive,” she said. “They want you to have two-and-half times the rent; they want you to have good credit.”
Shantel is not alone in the struggle to find affordable housing. Minneapolis ranks second behind New York City when it comes to vacancy rate – right around 2 percent.
“The vacancy rate for affordable homes for these very-low income families is about zero,” said Lisa Thornquist, acting director of the Office to End Homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County.
Since 2006, Hennepin County and Minneapolis have been working together to keep families off the street. They were seeing good success until the economy took a turn for the worse. Thornquist says their office has been able to find shelter for the families who need it, but, with the increases in homelessness, they’re working at the edges of where they can operate.
“I think it would have been far worse without us,” she said.
At PSP, Gumnit says he sees two more factors beyond the low vacancy rate that explain the higher rate of homelessness – (1) a lack of jobs for people without a college degree and (2) the high cost of childcare in Minnesota.
“It’s pretty close to crisis mode,” he said. “I’m not a person who is hysterical. We’re doing the best we can; but if it gets significantly worse, we’re going to have some real problems.”