Hennepin County ‘Homeless to Housing’ program uses a one-on-one approach

Success in the fight against homelessness

Success in the fight against homelessness

Even with warm weather approaching the metro, Danielle Werder says the issue of finding housing for those without— knows no seasons.

“Homelessness really is a year ‘round problem,” she says. “It’s people staying in their cars, people staying in youth shelters, family shelters, single shelters. We go wherever people are.”

Werder oversees Hennepin County’s ‘Homeless to Housing’ program — a team of thirty-two outreach workers, four supervisors, and a program manager.

The group actively seeks out those needing shelter.  

“Somebody out in a tent, that’s an ask for help,” Werder explains. “That’s them saying I need help. So, we meet them exactly where they’re at and start from there.”

She says since the program’s launch in November 2022, the group has helped to house 841 people.

Ninety-four percent, she says, have not returned to the homeless response system.

That effort was highlighted by Hennepin County Board Chair Irene Fernando during her State of the County address Friday.

“I believe that access to dignified housing is a human right,” she said. “Each individual is paired with a case manager who provides holistic support and resources in order to help them sustainably secure housing.”

Fernando says in 2023, Hennepin County invested $191 million for services to keep homelessness ‘rare, brief, and non-recurring.’

That included more than 15,000 units of supportive housing, and $98 million in transitional and permanent housing.   

Fernando says the county also launched an awareness campaign about mental health— an issue that is sometimes linked to homelessness.

As for the Homeless to Housing program, Werder believes the one-on-one approach creates a bond with clients, helping people navigate services, connect with prospective employers, and even get phone access.

“All of our social workers and case aides have work cell phones,” she says. “We also are able to give some of our folks flip phones. Some of them don’t have phones, and that’s a limitation in trying to access resources.”

There are certain requirements for people who want to connect with the program.

Clients must be eighteen or older and staying in a homeless shelter, sleeping outside, or in a vehicle.

The program does not accept children.

Applicants must not be already working with a housing case manager.

The program helps people find shelter in apartments and low-barrier facilities— the goal is to find them permanent shelter.

Werder says the number of people who’ve gone through the program is a sign it’s working.

“So having somebody whose professional job it is to help you navigate these systems and to help you get into housing is a very helpful thing,” she says.