Plan laid out to tackle rising homelessnessHomelessness – widely considered a predominantly urban problem – is steadily increasing in Washington County, advocates and county officials say.
By: Jon Avise, Woodbury Bulletin
Homelessness – widely considered a predominantly urban problem – is steadily increasing in Washington County, advocates and county officials say.
And with county social services increasingly stressed by the rising number of people in need, a new homelessness prevention plan in the state’s second-most affluent county is aimed at heading off crises before they begin.
Heading Home Washington, a plan drawn up by a committee of members of the Washington County Community Services Department and area non-profits, intends to deal with issues that lead to homelessness before people are without stable housing.
“It’s more financially responsible to actually prevent homelessness,” said Kellie Cardinal, chair of the county’s housing collaborative, as she presented the plan to the Washington County Board last week. Cardinal said chronic health issues, sudden joblessness and lack of affordable housing all increase risk for homelessness. Washington County is the 86th of 87 Minnesota counties to adopt a Heading Home plan.
“There’s a gazillion reasons people end up homeless,” Dan Papin, Washington County’s Director of Community Services, said in an interview; many, he said, are through no fault of their own. And in suburban Washington County, incidences of homelessness are on the rise.
Papin said Washington County doesn’t have hard numbers for its homeless population.
But a survey conducted by the county in January indicated 313 Washington County residents were without a permanent place to call home at that time, according to the Heading Home Washington plan, a sharp increase over 2009.
The plan’s goals include developing more affordable housing in Washington County, where the average monthly rent is among the state’s most expensive, and helping homeless families and individuals obtain and maintain stable housing; and establishing more programs and services to support people who have already or are at risk of losing their home and connecting those in need with help to address crises that lead to homelessness.
Papin said the dramatic increase in the numbers of homeless in the county has risen in tandem with a skyrocketing demand for safety net services like assistance with housing, food and health care costs.
The rise in numbers of Washington County residents seeking help “has knocked our socks off,” Papin said.
Washington County Community Services had 4,048 open food support cases as of June, according to county figures, up from fewer than 1,900 cases in January 2008.
That, according to Washington County, represents more than 7,000 people relying, in-part, on the county to put food on the table.
The numbers of those seeking health care assistance has seen a similar rise, up to more than 9,300 cases this year from roughly 6,500 in 2008.
Papin said there are also “hundreds on a waiting list” for Section 8 housing assistance vouchers.
“I think what Heading Home is all about is it lets us get in there a little earlier” to offer assistance and guide those in need to help by identifying different county and non-profit sources of aid, Papin said.