Gov. Walz, volunteers gather for statewide effort to count Minnesotans experiencing homelessness

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A monster effort began at 10 p.m. Wednesday to get a clear picture of homelessness throughout Minnesota. 

It's part of a federal mandate that every state takes part in on the same January night every year.

At St. Stephens in Minneapolis, about 100 volunteers gathered to learn the locations they would check out in Hennepin County and took questionnaires with them. Beforehand, they heard from Gov. Tim Walz, who shares the concern of wondering where people stay out in the elements when they don't have a roof over their heads.

Homeless encampments

Walz thanked them for their dedication and time to make sure as many people as possible are counted. The volunteers were divided into teams and headed out to check bus stations, parks, under bridges, in campsites, public places, sidewalks, cars, RV's or on light rail trains.

Erika Ohles is with St. Stephen's Outreach and said the volunteers cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. 

"This helps determine the funding we get in order to keep doing the work we try to do, and it's amplifying the voices of people who frequently don't really have one," she said.

During what's called the 'Point in Time' count in 2019, 603 Minnesotans were documented as living on the street, not in any emergency shelter. What's more, that number is 200 additional people compared to 2018. 

Study: Increase in Minnesota homelessness since 2015

The governor said he's passionate about reducing the number of homelessness. 

"It's the Minnesota way to care, and on a cold, snowy night, we will encounter adults in the elements and children, and this number will help to tell us how much more housing is needed and lead to short-term rentals," Walz said.

The volunteers intend to be out all night long throughout Hennepin County and return to St. Stephen's at 4 a.m. Thursday. The surveys collected will be entered into a national database with the Department of Housing and Urban Development by April.

A second count, involving people who are staying in shelters, also took place. 

Visibility of homelessness issue in Twin Cities increases even as numbers decline