Did you know that before 1981, homelessness was practically non-existent in the United States? In Minnesota, dozens of homeless shelters opened for the first time in the winter of 1981-1982.

Duluth, MN
Photo Credit: Deb Holman


1950s: Outdated, state-operated psychiatric hospitals closed by the federal government. Too few county-operated psychiatric hospitals open, causing a huge spike in the number of mentally ill homeless Americans. [i]

1963: Federally funded urban renewal projects demolished skid row housing units across the country. Ten thousand skid row housing units were destroyed in Minneapolis on Nicollet, Washington and Hennepin avenues. [ii]

1973: Minimum wage peaked at $9.72 per hour (inflation adjusted). [iii]

1981: More than 11,000 workers were fired by the federal government during the Air Traffic Controllers strike. This marked a trend of unions losing collective bargaining power for fair wages and benefits.[iv]

1981: St. Stephen’s church first opens “temporary” shelter in Minneapolis.

1983: The Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) is cut $65 billion since the late 1970s. Domestic spending is slashed by $140 billion. Funding for HUD, unemployment and disability insurance, food stamps and family welfare is cut. [v]

1982: Our Saviour’s, Simpson and many other Minneapolis churches open “temporary” shelters.

1984: People Serving People and Caring & Sharing Hands open in Minneapolis. Minimum wage is $6.95 per hour (inflation adjusted).[vi]

1986: 10.8 million industrial workers had lost their jobs since 1981 due to factory closings or overseas relocations.[vii]

1991: Wilder Foundation conducts first statewide survey and count of homelessness in Minnesota.

2000: The top 1% of Americans hold 33% of the wealth, up from 20% in 1976.[viii]

2005: Minimum wage is $5.15 per hour.[ix]

2008: U.S. housing market and economy collapse.

2009: Wilder Research counts a record 13,100 homeless Minnesotans.


[i] The Encyclopedia of Homelessness, David Levison.

[ii] Down and Out: The Life and Death of Minneapolis’ Skid Row, Joseph Hart.

[iii] Wage & Hour Division, US Dept. of Labor.

[iv] Fired Air-Traffic Controller still feels the sting decades later, USA Today, 2004.

[v] Open House. St. Stephen’s Human Services, 2005.

[vi] Wage & Hour Division, US Dept. of Labor.

[vii] Bureau of Labor Statistics. As cited by Rachel Kamel in The Global Factory, 1990.

[viii] Colins, Chuck and Yeskel Felice, Economic Apartheid in America.

[ix] Wage & Hour Division, US Dept. of Labor.