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Homelessness Response

Rapid growth of homeless encampments during pandemic 

Minneapolis has experienced an unprecedented growth in homeless encampments since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several large encampments citywide with the largest currently at Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis. There are roughly 100 encampments throughout the city, most of which are small in size.

The City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and other public, nonprofit and outreach partners approach homeless encampments with the belief that:

Gov. Tim Walz has issued an executive order protecting the rights and health of at-risk populations during the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency. It prohibits the disbandment of homeless encampments on public land, but was later clarified to allow for disbandment where there are documented public health or safety risks. Prior to the Executive Order, the largest encampment in the City was fewer than 10 tents.

On June 17, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Commissioners approved a resolution declaring the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s commitment to provide refuge space to people currently experiencing homelessness. Encampments pose a serious health and safety risk, particularly for those staying in them, and those risks increase the larger encampments become.

Where do we go from here?

City and County staff are participating in discussions with staff from the State of Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and engaging with organizing leadership at Powderhorn Park, outreach teams, and persons with lived experience of homelessness to identify plans for responding to the encampment at Powderhorn Park and at other sites throughout Minneapolis.

Collectively, we believe that everyone should have access to safe, dignified housing. We are committed to finding solutions for those who are unhoused. However, we also know that resolving homelessness, and in particular unsheltered homelessness, will take significant time and support from all levels of government and the community, and will require multiple strategies and interventions, including increased investment in new affordable and accessible housing options.

Some strategies that have been identified include:

Overview of response to date

It is important to note that we were in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, decades in the making, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and recent unrest in our community. We know that communities of color, especially our Black and Indigenous communities, disproportionately experience homelessness There is simply not enough housing available that is both affordable and accessible to those who need it.

Housing ends homelessness, and the City and County have significantly increased investments in affordable housing development in 2019 and 2020, with priority for housing serving persons experiencing homelessness.

In response to COVID-19, Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis and community partners moved quickly to protect homeless individuals living in congregate settings and provide direct support to people experiencing homelessness and the response efforts of providers. Actions were underway to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among this population even prior to the first Hennepin County confirmed case on March 6, 2020.

Highlights include the following:

Homeless Response System background

The Minneapolis/Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness (OEH) leads the implementation of the City/County Plan to End Homelessness: Heading Home Hennepin, and subsequent plans to prevent and end homelessness for individuals, families, youth, and veterans. Mayor Jacob Frey and County Commissioner Angela Conley co-chair the executive committee of Hennepin County Continuum of Care board, which oversees the governance of the City and County homelessness response system.

Hennepin County oversees and administers $134 million in county, state and federal funds directly related to efforts to preventing and ending homelessness each year.

Hennepin County Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) works to decrease barriers to accessing health care by bringing critical services to the homeless population by locating clinics where people experiencing homelessness go for emergency shelter and other services. Health services and care coordination are provided in area shelters, drop in centers, and other agencies serving homeless individuals by a mobile, interdisciplinary HCH team.

The City budgets more than $1 million per year to directly support the City and County’s joint homelessness response system. Funds are used for emergency shelter improvements, rapid rehousing assistance and street outreach services.

The Minneapolis Police Department’s Homeless and Vulnerable Persons Initiative engages with people experiencing homelessness to understand their stories and situations and to focus on improving their health and safety. This initiative includes two full-time officers and support staff. The City provides about $350,000 annually to support this effort.

Partner resources

City Support for Affordable Housing

In addition to this direct operational support to the homeless response system, the City plays a critical role in funding the development and preservation of affordable housing, including permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. Since 2006, the City has provided more than $68 million to support the development of more than 900 units of supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness, including 117 new units in 2018 and 2019.

The City, in partnership with Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, Minneapolis Public Schools, Hennepin County, Pohlad Family Foundation and YMCA of the greater Twin Cities launched Stable Homes Stable Schools in April 2019. Through Stable Homes Stable Schools, families experiencing homelessness or housing instability receive rental assistance and support so their children can thrive in school. As of early 2020, 175 families including 500 children were housed through Stable Homes Stable Schools.

In partnership with tribal, community and government partners, the City opened a temporary Navigation Center to provide emergency shelter and on-site services to more than 175 people who had been residents of a large homeless encampment near Hiawatha and Cedar Avenues, referred to as the Wall of Forgotten Natives, during the summer of 2018. The Navigation Center closed at the end of May 2019, with about half of its residents finding permanent housing. The rate of housing placement was significantly higher than traditional shelters.

The City continues to focus on new and innovative interventions to address the increase in people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. In 2018, the City provided a $50,000 grant to American Indian Community Development Corporation to support a new low-barrier housing model for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness that brings new units online in only a few months and emphasizes low-barrier entry to housing and services. This year $250,000 in new City funds are available for similar projects.

The City has adopted zoning code changes to support persons experiencing homelessness. In 2015, the City adopted ordinances to allow for homeless shelters to be located throughout the City. In 2019, the City approved zoning code changes to allow for the development of intentional communities and cluster developments to provide more housing options for persons experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The code updates allow a configuration of small dwellings or rooming units and a common house on a lot.

On June 1, 2020, the City’s Renter Protections Ordinance - Fair Chance Access to Housing - went into effect, eliminating barriers to housing access for many residents.

The City made $3 million available for Emergency Housing Assistance for persons who have experienced a loss of income due to COVID in an effort to prevent evictions during this time of crisis. The County has made $15 million available for Emergency Housing Assistance through CARES Act funds. Applications for County housing assistance are currently being accepted.

More information about the City’s investments and policy work related to Affordable Housing:

Heading Home Hennepin

In 2006, the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness, entitled Heading Home Hennepin. This plan was developed by a commission of business and civic leaders, human service support agencies, advocates, and individuals who have experienced homelessness. It has since garnered community-wide support. Part of a burgeoning national initiative, Heading Home Hennepin was created to address the continued cycle of homelessness and change the cultural paradigm from managing it to ending it.

Last updated Jul 9, 2020

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