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Monthly Archives: November 2011
IMMEDIATE ACTION: Contact Minneapolis City Council Members and the Mayor about the Affordable Housing Trust Fund!
The Message: Thank Mayor RT Rybak for proposing to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund at $9.2 million!
On November 30, 2011, Minneapolis City Council will be hearing public testimony regarding the Mayor’s budget, including $9.2 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Please attend the hearing and contact your city council member Minneapolis City Council Member urging them to fund the trust fund at the proposed amount by the Mayor.
The meeting is at Minneapolis City Hall, City Council Chambers, 350 South 5th Street, room 317, 6:05pm.
Whom to Contact: Mayor RT Rybak and your City Council Member
- The Affordable Housing Trust Fund has created over 4000 housing opportunities in Minneapolis since 2003.
- Every dollar from the housing trust funds leverages $6 from other public and private sources.
Need for housing grows:
- The vacancy rate for any apartment is 2.4%, making the search for affordable housing even harder for those with low incomes.
- 54% of renters in the metro area pay more than 30% of their income on housing.
- 5500 children in Minneapolis Public Schools are homeless.
- Only 22% of low income households in Minneapolis have affordable housing.
- Emergency shelter costs $2700 per month for a family
- On average it costs $650 to prevent a family from becoming homeless in Minneapolis.
- 10,000 people waiting since 2008 for federal Section 8 housing vouchers in Minneapolis to help make their rent affordable.
- The average monthly rent rose to $921, compared to $902 a year ago. Low vacancy rates signal likely future rent increases.
Statistics from Star Tribune, Minnesota Housing Partnership Quarterly Report
By: Tracy May from First Unitarian Society
I am a special education teacher, life coach, and consultant to Unique Learners with conditions such as Aspergers Syndrome which is on the Autism Spectrum. It is estimated that 1 in 110 children in the United States has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. About 1 in 70 males have Autism. As someone that has worked with people that are differently abled for about 20 years now, it is discouraging to see that services are inadequate to meet the needs of these vulnerable people in finding housing and employment.
I personally have experienced homeless students with disabilities not having a place to go when faced with homelessness. Like many others, I assumed we had a plan to provide emergency housing to our vulnerable youth and adults. That is not the case.
To me, this is criminal. The thing to know is that you cannot tell someone is disabled by simply looking at them. There are many disabilities that cannot be recognized by simply looking. Autism is just one of those hidden disabilities. You also cannot tell if someone has a mental illness by looking at them. The same is true for chronic health conditions, cognitive disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries. It is difficult for anyone today to get a job, but for people with hidden disabilities, there are many hurdles.
Here are some statistics from Wilder Institute, October 2010
59% of the homeless have Serious Mental Illness
49% have Chronic Health Conditions
38% have Cognitive disabilities
35% have Traumatic Brain Injuries
It is estimated that about 75% of all disabled adults are unemployed. As people with good relationships and jobs live longer, my hope would be as a community that we try to find jobs for these individuals and to provide safe housing. Some of those that have hidden disabilities are our own veterans, wounded physically or emotionally by their service to our country. We have about 300,000 homeless veterans in our country. How can this be? The next time you see someone who is homeless, and it appears that there is nothing wrong with them, and they should just get a job—consider these numbers and choose compassion.
By: Susan Williams, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
Of any faith, charity and justice is core to the tradition. But can our involvement in charity sometimes stand in the way of furthering justice? There is a growing network of services across the city providing emergency shelter, meals, and second-hand belongings. Many of us are involved in donating to and volunteering at the service organizations, and we feel blessed to be able to help. But are we helping eliminate the need for the services in the first place?
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” We all know this familiar expression, and it begins to get at the balancing act between charity and justice. We have a good idea what charity is: charity is helping someone in need. Charity is needed as people are in crisis, but if we work only in the crisis mode, we miss seeing the whole big picture of Justice. Justice is more difficult to put into words. Dictionaries define justice as doing right by everyone equally, being fair and impartial, or as determining the rights to which all are entitled. Justice preserves an individual’s dignity in ways that charity cannot. Working toward social justice means that we try to help shape society to be fairer to all and provide the basic rights to which we are all entitled. If everyone who needed a job and a place to live could find work and affordable housing, homelessness would affect far fewer people. We can spend so much energy and money meeting immediate needs that we do not do enough work toward addressing their causes. Preventing and ending homelessness is cheaper than shelters and services from hospitals, police, and others that are bandaid approaches.
Many cities across the US are developing plans to shift more emphasis from a band aid approach to homelessness to creating solutions to end homelessness. Within Minnesota there are several important initiatives to end homelessness within the next ten years. In Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis, Heading Home Hennepin has been created. This is the 10-year plan to end homelessness by 2016 (www.headinghomeminnesota.org/hennepin), which works to prevent homelessness, create housing opportunities, do outreach to homeless folks, improve service delivery, implement systems change, and building capacity for self-support.
Heading Home Hennepin addresses a number of basic questions at the root of ending homelessness. What do we believe are the shared rights of all citizens? What needs to happen to end homelessness? How will we work together to achieve this goal? Some of the answers provided are mentioned below, and much more information is available at the organization web site.
The guiding principles listed by Heading Home Hennepin are:
- All people deserve safe, decent, and affordable housing
- Shelter is not housing
- Providing services without housing does not end homelessness
- Homelessness costs more than housing
- Data is important
- Prevention is the best solution
- Ending homelessness requires a community-wide response
- Ending homelessness is attainable
As citizens of Minnesota and as members of faith communities, we are all mandated to care for the neighbor, including those that are struggling with poverty and homelessness. As people of faith, we must consider this work and speak out in support of these measures to encourage our elected officials to implement and support this work with funding and policy efforts.
Frequently references are made that homelessness as we know it today is rooted in severe HUD cuts in the early 1980s. While policy changes did have a large impact exacerbating the problem, homelessness has been documented in America since 1640.
In the 1640s homelessness was seen as a moral deficiency, a character flaw. It was generally believed a good Christian, under God’s grace, would naturally have their needs met. People outside of that grace somehow were deserving of their plight as God rendered justice accordingly and fairly. If one found themselves homeless in the 1600s, a person or family would come upon a town and would have to prove their ‘worth’ to the community’s fathers,. If not, they would be on the not so merry way to the next town or hamlet.
Today, those experiencing homelessness has nothing to do with a person’s intrinsic worth. Homelessness is a complex social issue with many variables. Unfortunately, for those experiencing homelessness, the impact of the values of the 1640s are still pervasive. In America many still hold to this tenet, that one only needs to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and into the pursuit of the American dream and for those who cannot, they deserve to be destitute for they bring no ‘added value’ to society.
Displacement of people has many causes; industrialization, wars and subsequent problems, natural disasters, racial inequities, medical problems, widowhood, and the values of a nation as represented by their policies relating to the disenfranchised (systemic issues).
The Industrial Revolution starting in the 1820s-‘30s people began migrating from the farm to the city in search of jobs. Philadelphia and New York had many people walking the streets causing the country’s first pan-handling ordinances. City jails became de facto shelter systems.
Poor safety regulation caused a lot of physical disability and death. Those disabled and widows, many with dependent children had no means to provide for themselves and nowhere to turn. The 1850s brought the first documented cases of homeless youth, many of whom were kicked out of their homes because their providers could no longer afford to raise them.
The Civil War was the first war where the newly discovered painkiller morphine was used. Now people with amputated limbs could survive. Opiate addiction became rampant with 100s of thousands of war veterans addicted. From the 1870s until the 1890s one could purchase morphine and heroin with syringes from Sears and Roebucks catalogues. Many rural housewives also became addicted in response to the monotony of life in the middle of nowhere. Criminalization of drug addiction soon followed in response to the epidemic. And of course the Civil War brought with it cases of what is now known as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). The terms “tramp” “hobo” and “bum” were born out of this era.
Natural Disasters are another factor in the homelessness problem. The Great Chicago Fire, The San Francisco earthquake, the massive flooding of the Mississippi in the 1920s from Ohio through New Orleans displaced over 1.3 million people. The Drought of the 30s in Oklahoma and Texas, Hurricane Katrina, are just a few examples of disasters that affected millions of people’s households.
Systemic issues have developed over time. People living in generational poverty do not have the resources and support to become educated and move out of poverty. Racial divides still occur in the areas of healthcare, education, access to mortgages, access to equal paying jobs among many others. The constant bombardment of racial messages takes root in the social consciousness. This ethos becomes obvious when we study policy choices. Embedded in subconscious, these systemic issues raise boundaries making it very difficult for any one individual to overcome on their own.
Internationally progress has been made on how we look at the problem of homelessness. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed at the UN General Assembly in 1948, states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his own control.” 155 nations have ratified this declaration, the United States has not.
Where do we go from here? A solid examination of our policies and the underlying values must be questioned. As a nation, we need to recognize and believe in dignity of each individual. Then, we need to speak up for what’s right.
St. Stephen’s Shelter at 22nd and Clinton is in its 30th year of sheltering 44 homeless men every night. The site of the first of three shelter tours, sponsored by Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness, it was visited last Sunday by people interested in learning more about how homeless people live.
Located in the basement under St. Stephen’s Catholic Church offices, the shelter offers military surplus bunks dating from World War II, in rooms resembling a dormitory (or barracks). It provides access from 5:30 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. nightly to sober men, emphasizing sobriety as support for ending addictions as well as for avoiding trouble during their stay.
The shelter operates a free store in the former church garage, where varieties of clothing and toiletries are offered after contributed items are sorted. A smaller room, originally used for the store, is now a lounge where shelter occupants are welcomed to gather at night to talk or watch TV. Across the street, in the basement of St. Stephen’s school, is the Loaves and Fishes program, where volunteering groups from various churches offer evening meals each week night.
A visitor’s highlight at the shelter is the art in two rooms resembling an unfurnished, otherwise undecorated gallery, its walls full of impressive work. One group of art was supplied by students from the nearby Minneapolis College of Art & Design, who enrich volunteer support for the shelter. The second room, still more impressive artistically, contains three mural-sized works by a highly qualified but homeless Native American artist who had been arrested and convicted for allegedly urinating in the street and was sentenced to community service at the shelter. His service was to paint three masterpieces, two of them featuring Indigenous spiritual themes.
St. Stephen’s Shelter, which is privately funded, also is now working with a Lutheran church in North Minneapolis to enable offering additional space for homeless men, funded by Hennepin County.
Shelter tours continue the next two weeks – Nov. 13 at the People Serving People family shelter, and Nov. 20 at the Youth Link facility.
Overlooking beautiful Lake Calhoun, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church continues to grow and share in the Christian Orthodox traditions. A large congregation with 650 families, St. Mary’s contributes generously to the greater community.
For ten years, St. Mary’s has been involved in Families Moving Forward, which offers shelter to families at different churches weekly or biweekly. For two weeks every summer, St. Mary’s opens their doors to shelter 16 people within the church building. Each family has their own room in the building with a mattress on the floor, bedding, and other bedroom furniture. To start sheltering families at St. Mary’s, the congregation held a drive to collect mattresses, night stands, bedding and other furnishings to supply the families with comfortable living arrangements. During the two week period, the congregation provides breakfast, sack lunches, and warm dinner to come home to at the end of the day. Volunteers from the parish come to play with the children and spend evenings talking and sharing with the families.
Twice a year, Project Homelessness Connect is a day long one stop shop for connection to services needed by families living in poverty or homeless. Five years ago, St. Mary’s Ministry Development Coordinator Sandra Anderson started Project Youth Connect, a spin off of Project Homeless Connect, but the services are specific to youth. Every year in October around 150 youth of Minneapolis come to St. Mary’s and are educated and provided with services including: obtaining licenses and I.D.’s, hair cuts, dentistry and medical check-ups, housing information, child care, bus passes, and gift cards for Rainbow Foods. From 2-6pm, Project Youth Connect offers transportation to bring youth to St. Mary’s for the day provides a lunch meal, as well as art projects and connecting to appropriate services.
Project Youth Connect is a day to offer aid and opportunities. Anderson noted that, “There is nothing religious about the day, completely secular, we are here to do what we are supposed to do, whether they have a path to Christ or not, I’m just here to help them.” The purpose is to reach out to the homeless, specifically youth oriented.
Members from St. Mary’s are active in volunteering to support orther organizations through Minneapolis and the twin cities metro area, including: serving at the Simpson Shelter, Metro Hope Ministries and their Healing House for women, and Prison Ministries at the Lino Lakes Prison as well as the Shakopee Prison.
The congregation Anderson notes, “The bottom line is you have to help people…each time someone helps with something, it makes a difference…We have put a face on homelessness and have made strides, our work is always and won’t go away.” It is for the people St. Mary’s sees that St. Mary’s will continue to be a partner in efforts to end homelessness. With the collaboration of members of the congregation and working within the community, change is being made.