MANKATO — When asked to come up with a list of barriers to ending homelessness in Mankato, there was no shortage of answers from this group.
Low incomes, lack of knowledge of homelessness in the community, lack of government subsidies to help the homeless, lack of suitable dwellings, the housing that is available isn't affordable, many homeless people are suffering from mental illness, getting help is very complicated, medical expenses get in the way of paying rent, public prejudice, lack of personal motivation.
Navigating the world of homelessness can be tricky. But that's where events such as the Mankato Area Housing and Community Dialogue, held Thursday at Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato, can be helpful. The event brought together social workers, community leaders and representatives from various agencies that deal with housing. The discussion specific to homelessness was one of many break-out sessions throughout the day.
The event featured Mary Tingerthal, commissioner of Minnesota Housing. In addition to homelessness, sessions included discussions of housing redevelopment, workforce housing, single-family rehab and other topics.
But back to the homelessness discussion. Those solutions the group was looking for did come. And many of them sounded like this one:
“There are so many requirements laid down by so many agencies," Mankato psychologist George Komaridis said. "The solution might be to get some of those agencies to back down on some of those requirements.”
His comment sparked a series of similar comments and other suggestions for making it easier for people who are stuck in homelessness to get help getting help, and to get help getting out.
Streamline the process, one person said, and make it so that people don't have to go to a dozen agencies to get the services they need. Take decision-making power away from bureaucrats in Washington — or St. Paul for that matter — and give it back to the local social workers who know the homeless people in their community and are better equipped to get them the help they need. Model homeless outreach after other programs with proven track records for making things better for the clients they serve, such as drug court.