A recent three-day series by The Free Press on homelessness in the Mankato area brought to light some troubling facts: The number of homeless in our community is growing while the resources to help them are shrinking.
The series by Free Press Staff Writer Robb Murray “No Direction Home” drew a picture of homelessness in the community that had previously flown under the radar. We might see a homeless person walking down the street or in the mall, but most had, until now, no idea about the extent of the problem.
In short, there is a problem. The homeless numbers have grown by 20 percent since 2009 in southern Minnesota, according to a Wilder Foundation study. Mankato Area Public Schools reported that the number children with no permanent home rose from 61 last year to 95 more recently. The average stay at the Salvation Army men’s shelter went from 20 days to 33 days in a year.
Homeless shelters such as the Welcome Inn and Theresa House continue to turn many away, day after day. Partners for Affordable Housing, the umbrella organization of both shelters, says it served 54 households with housing for an average of 73 days each.
For every person or family served by the group, five are turned away.
Those who may be on the edge of homelessness find the number of affordable housing units dwindling. Mankato is no longer even taking names for a waiting list of subsidized housing because no more units are available. Federal budget cuts have reduced funding for the voucher program, which reduced the number of vouchers from 425 to 406. City housing officials note that the reduction in funding hurts even more because rents it has to pay continue to go up.
For people in surrounding counties, there is a 12- to 15-month wait for housing vouchers. Officials estimate that with the demand for housing, they could use triple the number of vouchers they get.