The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 1, 2014

Our View: Cities must get creative on homeless problems

Why it matters: Roadblocks to solving homeless problems can be overcome with creative solutions. Homeless people can't wait for a new federal affordable housing program. They're cold and hungry now.

In Duluth, the community leaders got together to come up with ideas for the city’s burgeoning homeless population and came up with the simple idea of a homeless bill of rights that allows homeless to rest and be in public places for longer period of time.

They proposed emergency shelters — warming houses for the homeless — during frigid weather.

In Salt Lake City, leaders set up more temporary and affordable housing by asking landlords to be part of the solution. They raised money through downtown parking meters to help agencies that support the homeless.

Cities all over America are seeing the need to help the homeless, and in particular, veterans who are homeless. A recently published Free Press series on the homeless in the Mankato area detailed that homelessness is a very real problem. It’s growing while resources for the agencies and housing to help the homeless are dwindling.

Homelessness is a complex problem. It is driven by everything from the background of the homeless person to the availability of very cheap housing to the existence of human resources — those who can counsel the homeless on ways back to self-sufficiency.

But many cities like Duluth and Salt Lake City aren’t waiting for a federal program to help the homeless. There are hundreds of homeless today in our city, and more troubling, many are youth. They can’t wait for a federal housing program.

A Wilder Foundation study showed Duluth had more homeless people per capita than even Minneapolis. Nonprofits and church groups got together to establish temporary emergency shelters. They leave warm coats, blankets and gloves at the places they know the homeless are living.

The Salt Lake City Homeless Outreach Service Team is a partnership between police and homeless service agencies that not only connects the homeless to the resources they need, but directs funding to downtown parking meters to continually raise money for the groups. It’s a unique way to raise money to help the homeless and discourages people from giving their money to panhandlers.

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