The Free Press, Mankato, MN

No Direction Home

December 8, 2013

No Direction Home, Day 1: More Mankato homeless now than 10 years ago

Young and old seeking help from a variety of sources

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He makes the rounds visiting people who either have no place to go or who choose to live alone out in the elements.

He rattles the tents at both sites, but the men aren't home. They're most likely in town staying warm at the Blue Earth County Library or getting a meal at the Salvation Army. Wherever they are, they're blending in with the rest of the population.

Homelessness in southern Minnesota is a growing problem. Whatever the reasons behind it are, more people are homeless today in southern Minnesota than 10 years ago. And there are twice as many people living below the poverty line now than in 2001. The Mankato area has services through the city, county and area nonprofits, but the barriers to people at risk avoiding homelessness — and to homeless people climbing out — are substantial.

Jobs exist in the area, but many of them pay minimum wage. There are places to live, but not many, and what is out there is typically beyond the reach of someone earning $7.25 per hour. There are housing assistance programs, but many of them are temporary, and Mankato's Section 8 housing program is closed because it can't accept any more participants.

To stem the tide, a series of shelters house the homeless and help some of them get back on their feet, and other social service programs are also available. But even then, sometimes people fall through the cracks.

“Homelessness is never gonna go away,” Terry says. “What I'm trying to do out here isn't about enforcing laws. We're trying to help people. We're trying to help everybody coexist.”

Scope of the problem

In 1991, the Wilder Foundation — a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that monitors poverty and homelessness in Minnesota — estimated roughly 3,000 people are living homeless in Minnesota. In 2012, that number climbed to roughly 14,000.

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No Direction Home