Nov. 9 Report, part 1

The Zoom meeting was called to order on Nov. 9, 2020 at 6:10 PM.  24 people attending
Our speaker was Michael Huffman, Director of outreach and shelter for St. Stephen’s Street Outreach program.   St. Stephen’s Street Outreach program is the go-to place that MPD, UMPD, MPRB-PD and others call first when they find someone needing food, shelter and other support. 

The Program’s Mission is to end homelessness.  Its mission statement:  We envision a community in which housing instability is rare, brief, and non-recurring, ending homelessness as we know it.

The Roadmap – topics covered in this presentation:

  • Homelessness in our community
  • Homelessness emergency response system
  • Agency overview:  St. Stephen’s human services
  • Street Outreach:  working with people experiencing homelessness
  • What can you do?

How many people are unsheltered in our community?  St. Stephens does a count, twice a year (except this year, July count canceled due to Covid-19).  A two year chart shows an increase from 404 in January, 2019,  to 732 18 months later.   St. Stephens believes this is an undercount.  See:
Where do homeless people shelter at night (% based on 2019 count): 
36.6% shelter on transit  (In August, the trains shut down several hours every night, so people shifted to other sites)
28.8% are on street, sidewalk or skyway15.3% are in a park or other open space12.7% are under a bridge or overpass9% are on private property or up all night5.6% are in a vehicle
The actual number shows a substantial 3-fold increase from 2015-2019 in Continuum of Care area that includes Hennepin and Ramsey County and Suburban Metro Area (which is made up of Anoka, Dakota, Scott, Carver and Washington counties that function as one unit).   The greatest leap was a 55% increase from 2018 to 2019.  The metro suburbs had the greatest number of unsheltered people in 2015 and 2016.   Since then, Hennepin County has reported larger number  than the other two divisions, combined.  

Racial disparities — Twin Cities
Unsheltered people in the Twin Cities are disproportionately non white.  Looking at population as a proportion of the whole, people of color show up 2.7 times more than expected.  African Americans appear 5.3 times more, and Native Americans are 27.1 times more likely to show up in the homeless population than their percents of the U.S. population as a whole. 
Putting it another way, if you compare percents of the total Minnesota adult population and the population of adult homeless

Identity     % of all      % of homeless
Black            5                 37

White          83                 34

Native           1                 12

Hispanic       4                   8

Asian           5                   2

Multi-race    1                   7

Causes of Homelessness (Symptoms, follow)

  • Affordable housing shortage
  • Lack of adequate shelter space
  • Lack of adequate services for mental health & substance use disorder
  • Institutionalized racism
  • Historical trauma
  • Personal trauma
  • Drug epidemic – cheap and accessible opiates, meth, etc.

Symptoms of homelessness include substance use disorder, untreated mental health issues, etc. 

Note that what “we” see may not be that abnormal.  It’s easier to recognize when someone is homeless, because they do not have a place to stay — everything happens out on the street.  In contrast, substance use and  untreated mental health issues among people who do have shelter, is not obvious; it’s hidden from view.
HOMELESSNESS EMERGENCY RESPONSE SYSTEM The emergency response system includes

  • Outreach teams  – St. Stephens has nine outreach staff and a program manager
  • Shelters – St. Stephens has two shelters, but is also one of five providers in a collaborative shelter group.  This is growing, and there is also a winter partner, Elim in NE Mpls.
  • Service support: Hennepin County provides additional access workers for the homeless, as well as health care, diversion, and recovery team
  • Housing providers

AGENCY OVERVIEW During fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, St. Stephens served: 3152 Households 598 Families 1356 Children
4676 Unique individuals (many of these are contacts from the outreach program and are one-time interactions)
2553 Single adults 159 Veterans NB: the above numbers do not show a true count.  Some folks were not included in the above count since the kind of services they received doesn’t fall neatly into only one category or would have inflated St. Stephens’ population

  • 683 Next Step assessments were completed with  Hennepin county families.
  •  Households in the Prevention Program received an average of $3223 per household.
  •  47.3% of the households were new to this program in FY2020, while 52.7% were carried over from the previous year.
  • 1132 individuals were provided shelter for at least one night.
  • Street outreach staff had 4647 engagements with 1020 known individuals and 1638 engagements with previously unknown individuals.

Emergency Response programs include

  • Street outreach
  • Housing Programs
    • Prevention
    • Rapid-rehousing
    • Permanent Supportive Housing for Singles and Families
  • Community Education
    • A Day In The Life (ADITL)
  • Representative payee program, a court ordered program.   About 550 people need St. Stephens to handle their Social Security every month.
  • Community Resources
    • Birth Certificates
    • Handbook of the Streets
    • Holiday drop ins

STREET OUTREACH – Working with people experiencing homelessness, staying in places not meant for human habitation

  • Objectives of Street Outreach Services, providing intervention that better meet the needs of homeless people than police intervention programs can because this is not a crisis situation, to:   1) Support individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness; 2)  Decrease street homelessness; 3) Decrease arrests at calls where social service intervention would be more effective; 4) Provide emergency resources; 5) Provide housing opportunities and long term support; 6) Respond to non-emergency calls from concerned citizens.
    • HARM REDUCTION AND HOUSING FIRST:  Meeting people where they are–emotionally, physically and geographically; There is no requirement to be “housing ready”
    • EFFECTIVE STREET OUTREACH:  1) Engagement that is respectful and non-judgmental; 2) Assessments that focus on individuals’ safety and harm-reduction; 3) Client-centered, patient and resourceful; 4) Compassionate and personalized.
    • RESOURCE REFERRALS:  1)  Immediate:  Emergency shelter, basic needs, emergency medical, crisis response, advocacy.    2) Longer term:  Mental health services; Substance use disorder services, employment services, permanent housing, supportive service, ongoing case management services.  Everything St. Stephens is doing has a goal of permanent, appropriate, safe housing.
  • PARTNERSHIPS:  Law enforcement, DID, Faith communities, Business, Neighborhood groups, Court system (which is changing, still), Social service providers.


  • See the humanity of the individual in front of you
    • Say “Hello” –  don’t treat the person as invisible
  • Educate yourself on the systemic causes of homelessness
    • Day In The Life (see the reference below)
  • Advocate for a Human response to a humanitarian crisis
    • Reach out to elected officials to push for more funding for housing of several kinds
  • Donate to Groups Addressing Homelessness
  • Volunteer
    • Meal groups
  • Call the St. Stephens community line to inform them of individuals needing support.
    • St. Stephens / 2309 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis MN 55404   ph.(612) 879-7624
Q:   Many shelters require a person to be completely substance free.   What would be a step in the right direction if this is a problem A:  There has been a shift in the last 4 years to move away from sobriety-based shelter.  Currently, 1 floor of Salvation Army, two shelters operated by St. Stephens (1st Covenant downtown and St. Stephens in South Mpls.), Simpson and Our Savior’s all are non-sober (folks can’t be actively using, but they can come in after using), Elim was more stringent, but that is now loosening up.Q: What percent of homeless are working jobs?A: Huffman uses the range 35-40% of folks using the shelter have jobs.    The unfortunate part of that is that 1) Some folks are working labor, temporary or cash only jobs,  which are  inconsistent; 2) Some are working minimum wage jobs, which is not enough to be able to afford an apartment  (someone working minimum wage must work between 80 and 95 hours a week to be able to rent a one BR)  3) Some some better paying jobs were working 3rd shifts, but then people needed a safe place to sleep during the day.   Recently, Hennepin County began to support shelters so they could be open 24/7, so 3rd shift workers could also have a safe place to sleep during the day.Q: Compound question:  have funds been allocated to fund MPHA to retrofit and occupy Elliot Towers?  What is the cost per unit for  resident housing?A: When you are talking about affordable housing, Huffman focuses on people earning 0-15% of Area Median Income.  The units that are being put up are for 50-60% and up to 80% of Area Median Income — AMI.  Even though that is  considered “affordable” for the general population, this is not attainable for the people St. Stephens and other shelters are serving in their programs.Q: How do we solve the issue of homelessness?  We’re providing more and more services but how do we solve the problem?   Do we offer more employment?   Asker is concerned that providing services turns us into enablers.A: It has to be “Both – And”.  There is a subset of the population that can work. There is a significant portion, 30-40% that are on Social Security or Disability; they have been determined by the government to be unable to work enough hours to be able to afford housing.   The government is giving them in the neighborhood of $700-800 a month, which is not enough to afford housing.  In the 1980s, the government divested from affordable housing (which only took 25-30% of a person’s income for rent).  Now we’re seeing the ramifications of that:  the infrastructure of that 1980 apartment is crumbling; affordable buildings were sold to commercial investors who didn’t care for their property.  Nationwide, we have a shortage of  7.5 million affordable housing units.  As our units crumble or disappear, we have more and more people homeless.  When we provide “shelter” we push people from place to place but ignore what they need to feel safe and welcome — people need to want to go inside. This summer, Hennepin  County has provided a range of services, but the result was pushing people from one place to another, separating them from resources that they might be able to access.   Currently, in unsheltered camps, there is an HIV outbreak.  The CDC has stated that moving people from camp to camp is NOT a best practice.  It’s not a best practice putting people in congregate sites.   Yet Hennepin County is doing those things.  We need more money, but different allocation of it.
Q: Do people come to our area because of the benefits we offer? 
A:  A study of general population inflow and outflow compared with people who are homeless found there was no significant difference between groups.   So: yes we have good benefits and services, but no, that is not why people are coming here.  People come because they have family here, they grew up here, they heard of a job opportunity. 
Q: St. Stephens is offering 24 hour services but the Salvation Army is still asking people to leave 8AM to 8PM.   Some are providing lunch, but between Covid-19 and cold weather coming, there isn’t much for many people.  Asker helped run the Boom Island Camp, and relayed that getting people to services they need is piecemeal and difficult. 
A: Huffman reported that currently, Safebay and Sally’s have been running night-by-night, not 24/7.   They are working on moving to 24 hour open, but have not been able to provide that yet.   Right now,  Safebay is being renovated, so it will be January before they can shift to 24 hours.   Guests at Safebay and Sally’s can have meals on site. 
Q: What is the cost of constructing ONE unit of housing? (studio or small 1-br)A: It’s in the neighborhood of  $230,000, for new construction of affordable housing.  He doesn’t have any info about retrofit.Q: What’s the status of the project where Minneapolis is building micro-units in a warehouse? What’s the cost of that?A:  Huffman has not seen a final cost of that.   The city is moving forward and hope to have it usable by the end of the year.   That will be around 100 units.  [EQ: but the SS count of unsheltered people in Jan. 2019,  was 732, see above]
Q: Instead of providing these units, does it make sense to provide these individuals $300-$400 to go into existing units in the city?A:  There was a pilot project, each person was presented with a check (perhaps) $7000.  They were NOT surprised to find that many did not find housing.  Many homeless people have flags in their background.   A background check will uncover a previous offense.   Again,we have  a very tight market in affordable housing; less than 2% of affordable units are vacant. Just throwing dollars is only part of a bigger solution.Chiming in to the answer by someone who works to find housing for clients:   The county gives perimeters: she may look for a 4BR house for a family of 6, at $1600/month.   She has a long list of landlords who are willing to work with her, but they have few vacancies.  If a client has an  eviction history, or felony in past history, and it gets more complicated.Q: In the past, a relative had an apartment in a subsidized building that had rent based on income: 25% of income, with a cap at market rate.  What happened to that?A. President Reagan shifted that resource into other things: War on Drugs and similar services.  

The Youtube recording of this meeting is here:

Emilie Quast, Board member
MPD Second Precinct Advisory Council (2-PAC)
Minneapolis MN 55418
Attachments area Preview YouTube video 2PAC Meeting November 2020- “Unsheltered Populations and St. Stephen’s Outreach”


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