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Ramsey, Hennepin counties work to provide shelter beds for homeless

Updated: October 25, 2019 10:14 PM

Minneapolis police looked on as belongings were packed up at E. 25th Street and Bloomington Avenue. City crews cleaned up items that were left behind Friday.

The growing homeless encampment had drawn complaints from neighbors and safety concerns from officers, according to MPD Spokesperson John Elder.

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He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they gave people a warning that they had to leave on Friday.

It’s a reminder that even though the high-profile Hiawatha Encampment closed earlier this year, homelessness is still a problem in the Twin Cities.

“We have seen more and more single adults experiencing unsheltered homelessness, staying in places unfit for human habitation, staying in the metro, than in previous years,” said David Hewitt, director of Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness.

The latest point-in-time count, conducted by the county and St. Stephen’s Human Services, shows the number of unsheltered adults in Hennepin County has been growing.

In January 2018, there were 404 unsheltered adults. In January 2019, the number rose to 603 unsheltered adults.

According to the count, in July 2018, there were 523 unsheltered adults. In July 2019, there were 732.

“We have 893 single adult shelter beds in Hennepin County, they hit close to 100 percent utilization every night,” said Hewitt. “There's so much demand coming into the system that it really stretches out our capacity, stretches out our ability to respond as a community.”

He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there is a shortfall of about 60,000 deeply affordable housing units in our community.

Homeless Encampments

“For people on desperately low incomes there's really very, very little housing around,” said Hewitt. “It’s also critical to acknowledge homelessness in Hennepin County and the U.S. as a whole is overwhelmingly experienced by communities of color.”

Family homelessness, however, has decreased, according the Hewitt. He told us families in Hennepin County are guaranteed a place to stay, even if shelters are full.

The county will add 50 beds next Friday through partnerships with nonprofits.

In Ramsey County, an additional 64 beds will be available on Nov. 12.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved keeping the Winter Safe Space open year-round.

“The rising numbers of unsheltered has just created this situation where we need to be open year-round,” said Jim McDonough, the Board Chair. “Chemical dependency, mental health issues have always been a driver. The affordable housing has really started to play, especially in the rental market.”

It’s a two-year contract with the nonprofit Model Cities, which will cost the city about $1.2 million over two years. According to McDonough, it’s just one piece of the effort to reduce homelessness.

“The long-term solution is three to five years out where we can have more affordable housing,” said McDonough.

The shelter will connect people to services. It also has a washer and dryer.

“People have a misunderstanding of the homeless,” he said. “It's families, it's unaccompanied youth, it’s working people that actually have jobs but they don’t have enough money to pay rent.”

“It could happen to any of us, at any moment in time. It's a fragile thing.”

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Callan Gray

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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