Hennepin County and Minneapolis nonprofit say the number of families seeking shelter is rising
For Steve Horsfield, it’s an ending and a beginning: the demolition of the 141-year-old Simpson United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis.
“This is a reminder of the impermanence of things,” he says. “For everything, there is a time and a season, and this structure served its time and its season, and it’s time to make space for the next thing.”
Horsfield, executive director of Simpson Housing Services, a Minneapolis nonprofit, says that the ‘next thing’ is a planned short-term, 72-bed housing facility for people experiencing homelessness, including 42 units of permanent housing.
“What we really need in our community is shelter that is low barrier in terms of easy to access with a lot of services on-site,” he notes.
Experts say in Hennepin County, families seeking a place to live are hurting the most.
The county’s latest Shelter Report shows 401 families are now staying in shelters, including 790 children and 619 adults.
That’s almost twice the number from a year ago, about 210 families.
The Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness says since July alone, there’s been an increase of 144 families staying in shelters.
And now, the need for shelter far exceeds capacity, at 337% of 119 rooms.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented increase in family shelter,” says Danielle Werder, the area manager of the Office to End Homelessness. “There’s more children than ever that don’t have a safe, stable home right now in Hennepin County, so absolutely, we’re concerned.”
Shelter advocates say the increase started with the lifting of the eviction moratorium, which allowed people to stay in their homes during the pandemic.
Horsfield points to the economy, a lack of affordable housing and even the start of the school year as factors.
“If a person is in poverty, they are naturally drawn to the metro area,” he says. “You’ve got public transportation; you’ve got access to housing programs. Coming into August and September, families want to make sure that kids are in stable housing and are in communities where they have access to good schools.”
Horsfield says his non-profit is trying to help, with a program that provides transition housing for about 300 families, who typically stay about two years while they’re getting stabilized.
The Office to End Homelessness is working to form a team of housing case managers that can connect families to housing services.
“We have prevention services so that if families are in trouble with rent, we’re ready to help them quickly connect with rental assistance,” Werder says. “If families are going through Housing Court, we have representatives to keep them connected to their housing.”
She says the office is also providing temporary shelter and meals for families in crisis, case management services, support to keep children in school and help with transitioning into permanent housing.
A spokesperson says the county is also using hotels or staffed shelter buildings run by contracted providers for any overflow of families.
“People are coming from different parts of the county, other parts of the world. So, we’re doing our best to accommodate everybody,” Werder says. “We are setting up security safe spaces for families to sleep and stay, so we are definitely in scattered sites right now.”
Horsfield says Simpson Housing Services has raised all but $5 million of the $47 million needed to build the new facility.
The plan is to open by the summer of 2025.
Horsfield hopes these are all steps in the right direction, to help those experiencing homelessness.
“People are still suffering,” he declares. “If you’re already in a situation where you have to make hard choices between paying the electric bill or buying groceries, that situation got a hell of a lot more challenging in 2023.”
You can find out more about Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness here.
Information about Simpson Housing Services can be found here.