By Michael Dahl | How do you make sense of the homelessness you see?
I see lines outside our shelters and my heart hurts. I hear of kids dealing with the “toxic stress” of homelessness and a lump grows in my throat.
How do we let this happen? How?!
To some, this may seem a strange question. I mean, homelessness is so big; it’s hard to think about what we can do, right? And, sure it’s getting worse. But it’s always been bad, right?
Well, no. In fact, the widespread homelessness we see today is relatively new to Minnesota and our nation overall. Those 14,000 children, women and men in Minnesota who don’t have a place of their own … that would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago.
Did you know that in the early 1990s homelessness was a quarter of the size it is now? Did you know that the homeless response system – the outreach workers, the drop-in centers, and the emergency shelters – didn’t exist before the 1980s. In large measure they weren’t needed.
But this terrible thing happened in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that made homelessness inevitable. In the span of five years (1978 – 1983) the federal government’s budget for affordable housing for low-income people was slashed by $65 billion dollars (from $83 billion to $18 billion).
Now, it was replaced … partially … five years later … by less than $1 billion in money for emergency shelter.
And since then, the federal government’s funding for housing affordable to lowest-income households has remained relatively flat. In fact, today only 23 percent of those eligible for federal housing assistance actually get it. This despite a growing population, higher land costs, and demands for safer and healthier housing in our communities.
There is an answer that will significantly reduce homelessness. And it’s a relatively simple answer. We need to invest more in housing that poorer folks can afford.
Michael coordinates volunteer advocates through Beacon partner congregations and others who want to call for such investment on the part of public funders. Contact him to learn about current efforts to secure $20 million in the Minneapolis city budget for affordable housing.