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Beacon’s Housing First Campaign Will Create 70 New Homes
December 4, 2018

Stories about the encampment at Franklin and Hiawatha Avenues in Minneapolis have dominated the news since this summer. At one point, over 300 tents were pitched at the site as the only shelter for hundreds of people, most of them from the Native community. Local organizations and city leaders scrambled to form a cohesive, equitable response to the need for safety, community, recovery support, and home so many of our neighbors face and which the presence of the encampment shone a bright light on. Beacon has been (and will continue to be) a dependable partner in that response (more on that later). At the same time, over 700 single adults remain on Hennepin County’s Coordinated Entry waiting list, yearning for a stable place to call home. And, they’re just a fraction of the 20,000 families and individuals who experience homelessness each year.

It is painfully clear: we need to build more homes.

So we are.

Beacon has launched a campaign to create up to 70 homes in a new apartment building in Minneapolis. Though many details will be clarified as we progress, it’s clear that this will be Housing First.  

Housing First focuses on getting people into stable housing without first requiring them to address other problems they may be facing. It’s easier to engage with the support services we’ll provide once the chaos of living on the street – or in a tent – is alleviated by the security of a home. Housing First affirms a person’s dignity of choice and timing as they pursue addiction recovery, health treatment, or employment. On-site case managers give residents the assurance that robust support is available on an individual basis in this low-barrier, high-intensity approach.

In listening humbly to people living at the encampment and the people who serve and support them, we heard that creating homes structured around a Housing First model was the most sustainable, responsible, affirming way we could meet the needs of these neighbors.  Our shared values compelled us to be part of this broader conversation. The seeds we’ve been planting together position us to act.

An amazing amount of research and consideration went into this decision! Leaders from collaborating congregations discerned how their faith was calling them into action as congregations and as individuals, and what commitments of money, energy, and leadership they could bring to the table. Research visits with members of the Minneapolis City Council, done by congregational leaders, suggested that there is political interest around investing in Housing First apartment homes. And we heard from key staff at the county that, as of our conversation, they weren’t aware of any other organizations talking about creating homes at the scale and pace that we are. All of these ‘streams’ informed our Collaborative Strategy Committee’s decision to launch this campaign and will continue to power our action moving forward. Beacon, we’ve done a lot of heavy lifting in a short amount of time, and we should be proud of that!

We’ve built a reputation of taking bold action in response to the magnitude of the need we see around homelessness and affordable housing. This is a chance for us to be bold again! We’ll need to raise up to $1 million from private contributions to launch these homes. We’ll need congregations to step forward and claim the mantle of leadership. We’ll need to deepen our relationships with other organizations, city leaders, and sovereign nations who are stepping in with their best to provide equitable solutions.

And we’ll need to continue moving other priorities forward.

As I’ll share in future posts, Beacon is working with Avivo and the Red Lake Nation to move up to 35 people from the encampment and into our American House and Kimball Court buildings. Our congregations are engaging in a donation drive to provide these individuals with essential items needed to start their homes. Organizing campaigns to increase bonding dollars and establish a dedicated public funding source for rental assistance will continue to unlock desperately-needed resources that make affordable housing possible. Our expansion at Lydia Apartments, supported through those same bonding dollars we secured in the 2018 legislative session, highlights the diverse ways we’re meeting the needs of people across a broad continuum of supportive housing options. And while our Housing First campaign will create homes for individuals, families living at the encampment and throughout the metro also need supportive housing, which is why we’re engaged in building Family Supportive Housing in suburban Hennepin County.

Stay tuned for further reflections on each of these elements and updates on the Housing First campaign!

The need in our community is complex, and the call for our response is urgent. At Beacon, we will continue to hold both of these realities in creative tension. Our decision to build using the Housing First model is a testament to our willingness and ability to do this. And it’s a decision that affirms once more the call of our faiths into action and our dedication to the vision that all people have a home.

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Are you ready to get involved? Contact your Congregational Organizer or Laura Vitelli (lvitelli@beaconinterfaith.org | (651) 789-6260 ext. 210) for more information.

Lee Blons
Lee Blons is Executive Director of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative.