ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Hundreds of advocates for the homeless came to the capitol Tuesday asking lawmakers to fund programs they say could dramatically reduce the number of people without a place to call home.
Several bills are pending at the legislature, but there’s no guarantee they’ll pass. Homeless groups and housing organizations are hoping the legislature can put a dent in homelessness. But even with a near-record budget surplus, a rise in funding for these programs is not a sure thing.
The good news is that the number of homeless people in Minnesota is down. The not so good news: more than 10,000 people are homeless.
Senta Leff is executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless.
“More than half of them are children,” she said. “Half of those kids are under the age of 5.”
Leff is part of a group asking lawmakers to fund transitional housing for 1,000 homeless people, housing for people with mental illness, long term support services and hotel vouchers for seldom-noticed homeless people in rural Minnesota.
“People will find heated dog homes, heated dog houses, and tuck their children to bed inside of there,” Leff said. “They’ll sleep inside of fish houses on frozen lakes. They’ll walk the aisles of 24/7 Walmarts. They’ll find an empty bed in a local hospital and hope that no one opens the door that night.”
Minnesota lawmakers are hearing the homeless bill at a time of a $1.6 billion budget surplus. Some Republicans think high taxes are one reason the homeless aren’t getting more help.
“It actually stifles private sector growth,” Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) said. “And the result is we have fewer tax dollars to meet the needs of the people of Minnesota who really need that help.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are worried that extra money won’t go for homeless programs.
“One of those big pieces this year is going to have to be for tax cuts, for wealthy Minnesotans — probably a lot of it,” Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) said. “And so that won’t go into health and human services.”
Minnesota homeless groups worked hard in the last few years to help homeless veterans, and that number is dropping. Importantly, now they say the priority should be Minnesota’s 5,000 homeless children. Their average age is 8 years old.