Millions of dollars approved in Hennepin County to address growing number of homeless families

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With a steady increase in the number of homeless families in Hennepin County over the last year, a major investment was approved to help.

In what county officials called a “last minute, walk-in” request to the Hennepin County commissioners during Tuesday’s board meeting, $3.5 million will now be used to help temporary house families with the goal of helping them into permanent housing.

The county’s most recent shelter report shows that 191 families were in a shelter on the night of Sept. 13 — according to Hennepin County, that’s a 143 family increase from a year before.

Photo Courtesy: Hennepin County

“Currently, we are really seeing a trend that’s about similar to what we saw pre-COVID in 2019,” Kate Heffernan, senior administrator in the Human Services Department with Hennepin County, said.

Heffernan oversees the family shelter system in the county.

“One thing that the last two years taught us is that directing funding to families experiencing poverty really stabilizes families,” Heffernan said, adding: “We saw families being able to use the federal supports from the tax credit, the rental assistance, and then also with the evictions moratorium, [and it led to] really seeing very low numbers in shelters over the last couple of years.”

Those numbers are back up, leading to this urgent request for funding.

“We do have plan, we will be working on the exact source of the funding moving forward, but we needed the approval to kind of take action,” Heffernan said.

One way the county will use this money is extending a contract with a metro hotel to house families. They plan to do this at one location, allowing officials to better help families move into permanent housing.

One of Minneapolis’ largest shelters, People Serving People, is seeing that increase in homeless families first hand.

“It’s been hard,” Rinal Ray, chief executive officer with People Serving People, said. “We don’t want to see our shelter full. There have been times this month, where all 99 rooms have been filled, where we’ve had [more than] 300 people in the shelter with us, and [more than] 200 and children every night in shelter with us.”

Ray adds the impact of federal pandemic relief programs ending is clear.

“We’re finding right now is that because of the way inflation is increasing the cost of rent, the cost of gas, the cost of food, it’s just harder to make those limited dollars that families with low incomes have stretch further to be able to maintain their housing,” Ray said.

While Ray and her team will benefit from the funding, she said they’re always accepting donations if people can help.