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


The Wilder Foundation's number for homelessness found that the region identified as southeastern Minnesota — a large chunk of the state from Mankato down to the Iowa border and all the way east to the Wisconsin border — is seeing growing homelessness as well.

In 2009, 483 people were identified as homeless. Three years later, that number climbed to 619.

Poverty in Blue Earth County paints a similar picture. The national poverty rate — the income an individual needs to meet basic needs — is about $11,000. The county, actually, has an abnormally high number of people living at or below the poverty rate. In fact, at nearly 19 percent, Blue Earth County's poverty rate is the highest of any county not on an Indian reservation.

Carrol Meyers-Dobbler from Partners for Affordable Housing likens the Mankato area to oil and water.

"We have a lot of millionaires here," she said. "And we have a lot of people who are struggling."

A large portion of those are children, some of whom are living with their parents, and some who are not. Mankato Area Public Schools keeps track of the number of kids who identify as having no permanent home. Throughout the 2012-2013 academic year, there were 61 students who, at some point throughout the year, reported having no place to go. This year, that number jumped to 95.

Over at The Reach, they deal firsthand with kids who need help. The Reach is a homeless youth outreach program funded by Lutheran Social Service, the state's largest nonprofit. Opened in February 2011, The Reach is busier now than ever.

Since opening, The Reach has helped 73 youth find temporary housing, distributed more than 7,000 food and drink items to kids in need, provided nearly 11,000 health and hygiene items, and graduated 42 kids through its independent living skills class.

Recent figures released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development showed a decline in homelessness nationwide. That trend did not hold true, however, for Minnesota. The number of homeless people in the U.S. declined for a third straight year, helped by sharp drop-offs in veteran and chronic homelessness, according to a HUD survey released in November. The numbers are based on a single-day count of homeless people in 3,000 cities across the country, including Mankato.

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