Around the State in 4 Days, or

What I Learned About Transitional Housing During My First Week at MCH

By Atom Robinson

Hi.

I’m the new guy at the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. My name is Atom Robinson and I’m going to be doing outreach and policy campaign work for the Coalition. I’m really excited to be joining the team.

I’ve been on the job for a little over a week now, and I probably should’ve introduced myself to the blog audience sooner (I’m sure we’ll get a lot of opportunities to talk, me and you), but last week, along with most of the rest of the MCH staff, I was on a tour of transitional housing providers throughout Greater Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services web site:

The Minnesota Transitional Housing Program (THP) provides housing assistance (at congregate facilities and scattered-site apartments) and support services to people who are homeless.

Like other programs, they’re operated by Community Action Agencies, tribal governments and other nonprofit organizations. These programs work to prevent homelessness, provide safe shelter, and assist homeless households in securing and maintaining stable, independent housing and economic self-reliance… Programs receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the state of Minnesota. Funding is distributed through a biennial competitive grant process.

If you follow MCH’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts, you probably noticed we visited transitional housing providers in Mora, Duluth, Virginia, Eveleth, Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Moorhead, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Willmar, Mankato, and Rochester (phew!). It was an intense, fast-paced trip, and a great way to get to know my new co-workers (and for them to get to know me!) and some of the fantastic people doing transitional housing work throughout the state.

BiCap

Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. The demand for transitional housing outpaces the supply, and eliminating it would cause problems both “upstream” and “downstream” in the housing continuum. “If we didn’t have [transitional housing]” said one staff person, “it would mean people would be in shelter longer, and we’d struggle to help families on MFIP find stable housing.”
  2. There are a lot of different ways providers can support people with transitional housing. We saw scattered site housing, congregate housing, youth programs, and family programs. Each program was designed to meet the needs of the community, and local staff used transitional housing to provide supportive and stable housing for people who were moving “from point a to point b” in their lives, getting more secure and self-supporting. The housing stock is getting older and worn, though, so continual investment is needed to maintain it.
  3. The there are  numerous barriers faced by the people using transitional housing services, but the two biggest are the lack of living wage jobs and affordable rental units. At each site, I asked what kind of jobs people in transitional housing were working, and what the rental market was like. Every site mentioned that most transitional housing residents worked low wage jobs in fast food, retail, and other service industries, and that the historically low local vacancy rate made it nearly impossible for people to move from transitional housing to market rate housing.
  4. Across the state, the staff at Community Action Agencies and nonprofits who work with transitional housing see themselves as strong advocates for the families and individuals in that type of housing. They work smart and hard, are creative and caring.

Transitional housing provides flexibility for staff finding housing solutions, and stability for people in transition. Every staff person we talked to had success stories of people who left transitional housing and moved on to a stable life, and it was great to meet people who work every day to support families and individuals in transition.

I’m looking forward to meeting and talking with you, too. You can reach me at atom@mnhomelesscoalition.org or 612-222-5500.