Emergency shelters, encampments and needed investments

Housing instability affects Minnesotans across urban, suburban and rural areas of the state. On any given night, there are 20,000 Minnesotans experiencing homelessness with significant over-representation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. With advocates, partners and members organizations, together we are making progress across the state to increase the availability of temporary and permanent solutions, including purchased or donated buildings in the community being repurposed as emergency shelters and day shelters. To be sustainable and fully functional, we need investments in services and programs to support the ongoing operations of these critical community resources. We have seen encampments across the entire State offer a temporary community, but they shouldn’t be the only solution for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. An emergency shelter is not a permanent solution, but is a safe starting point to gaining long term stability;  we need the proper investments to generate safe and quality places for people dying outside.

Building and preserving buildings into temporary shelters

Across the state, cities, counties, tribes and service providers are building and preserving new day shelters and overnight shelters. Nameless Coalition in Bemidji has been advocating for months to open a day shelter for individuals to have a safe place to be during the extreme heat and frigid winters. After advocacy and commitment, Sanford donated a vacant building to the coalition. “We’re here to celebrate the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people [to obtain this space],” said Reed Olson, Executive Director of the Coalition. “We’re about to open a space that will provide warmth and community to people on Bemidji’s coldest days.” In Rochester, MN, an organization purchased an old pawn shop to turn into a day shelter. Once renovations are complete, plans call for the day center to include a full commercial kitchen, three medical exam rooms, restrooms and showers, laundry facilities and office space, as well as an area for people to gather throughout the day. Both of these stories offer an exciting feat but funding for capital updates and renovations to the building and program staff are next on the list. 

Encampments and emergency shelter needs on the rise 

The demand for shelter for people experiencing homelessness grows as the colder weather approaches. Our members at Align MPLS and Street Voices of Change wrote about increasing encampments in surrounding neighborhoods and the  impact they have on the community. Street Voices of Change (SVoC) is a group of individuals who have current or past personal experiences with homelessness who come together to build community and make positive changes in the lives of people experiencing homelessness–impacting the systems that contribute to and keep people in homelessness. Here is a note from their blog earlier this summer: 

“We acknowledge the presence of encampments can impact the surrounding neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods have expressed concerns about noise, trash, substance abuse and crime. Yet over the past few years, residents, neighborhood associations and businesses have also developed relationships with encampment residents and mutual aid networks have been activated to support encampment resident needs. When an encampment is forcibly closed and people are evicted, new encampments form in other locations. Encampment evictions do not end homelessness or the existence of encampments.” 

This only reinforces the need for more shelter beds and day shelters across the state. Encampments are a result of emergency shelters being at capacity. Rinal Ray, executive director of People Serving People, shares that their shelter is seeing a spike in demand for its homelessness prevention programs, and families of color are experiencing these economic hardships at a higher rate than the overall population. “Recently, the shelter housed close to 300 people; three times the number we were at this time last year, and of those 300 people, 200 were children,” said Ray. The need will only grow unless we prioritize investments to services, programs and homeless shelters now.

The reality is that there are not enough homeless shelters across the state for people that need a safe place to sleep. In some cases individuals have to travel up to 100 miles to find the next available shelter bed. Encampments offer a temporary community, but shouldn’t be the only solution for families experiencing homelessness. And while a homeless shelter is not a permanent solution, emergency shelters are the starting point to gaining long term stability. With lodging on a short–term basis (usually less than three months) emergency shelters provide an individual or family experiencing homelessness with a clean, safe place to stay. 

Advocates: we need you!

Expanding funding for emergency shelter beds will provide immediate and temporary housing for our most vulnerable Minnesotans. Emergency shelter beds generate a short-term solution for individuals and families sleeping outside. Investing in resources to expand emergency shelters will make improvements to Minnesota’s rental and housing markets, while sustaining a healthy and prosperous community. Which is why we are building out our legislative agenda to reflect the urgent need for more operational funding support, and we will certainly need your support this legislative session.

Strengthening the statewide Emergency Services Program (ESP) with a significant  increase in funding is a smart investment because where we live impacts every aspect of our lives. ESP allows organizations and local communities to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness by providing flexible funding that supports the operations,  staffing and resources to support families, individuals and seniors. We need to increase this funding so that the preserved and updated shelters have staff and amenities to provide safe & dignified shelter including culturally-specific shelters.

We know that shelter saves lives and housing ends homelessness. The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless will continue to be tireless in our efforts to advance the policy and systems change needed to prevent and address homelessness. We’re not letting up, and we hope you won’t either.