Homeless youth exacerbate metro housing crisis

Homelessness continues to be a problem in the Twin Cities as more and more youth find themselves unhoused.
MSR file photo

The Twin Cities has the worst housing shortage among metropolitan areas of the United States. The shortage started with the housing crisis in 2008, when construction of new homes dropped off sharply. The area has never really recovered. 

Household growth remains high and construction of new housing remains low. It appears that something more than half-measures is needed to fix the problem.. 

Recent reports show that only about one-third of the affordable housing units needed in the past decade have been built. Among the units constructed, only a small number are intended for the lowest-income families. 

In 2020, 2,724 affordable housing units were built. This is double what was built the previous year and more than any other year in the last decade, but still falls short of what is needed by a significant margin. Of these, only about 10% were intended for the lowest income group, those making 30% of the median area income or less. 

Governor Walz and the Minnesota Legislature have agreed to address the issue, but it takes time to build truly affordable housing. There is also the question of the allocation of funds: How much is going to staff salaries and shelters and how much into the actual building of affordable housing?

This crisis is only getting worse. The trends of the past decade are continuing, and added to this factor are an increasing number of people needing affordable housing due to the stressors caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Youth homelessness

Of those experiencing homelessness in Minnesota, 47% are youths (24 or younger) according to a study conducted by Wilder Research. That’s around 13,300 youths experiencing homelessness in Minnesota during the course of a year. And yet they have no seat at the table. 

Khalique Rogers is an advocate for homeless youth in the area. He knows the situation all too well, having experienced homelessness himself. “There is a statewide task force on shelters,” he said. “There is not a single person under 25 on this task force. 

“The conversation [is] dominated by people who run shelters, which youth do not like because, for example, they report being victims of theft and assaults in shelters,” said Rogers.

Rogers notes that the situation, already bleak, has grown even worse with the pandemic. Housing spaces and resources became more scarce. Resource waitlists (which were already backed up) became worse. He notes that many have been forced into sleeping in tents or the unsafe practice of “couch-hopping.” 

Feeling a sense of urgency, Rogers recently helped convince the state legislature to allocate $20 million to the reduction of youth homelessness. The funds are being distributed to all Minnesota counties, and Rogers and others are beginning talks with counties on how to most effectively use this resource. 

Their main recommendations for the counties are to train youth in construction skills so they have a means of employment by repairing existing low-income housing and building new homes for lowest-income families. They also suggested creating facilities with youth housing and supportive services like Prior Cross and Ain Duh Yung in St. Paul. 

 “People with excellent educations are less likely to be homeless,” explained Rogers, who thinks education is an essential factor in helping solve the problem of homelessness. “People who are homeless are less likely to do well in school. We must begin to look at the whole ecosystem that creates this cycle of poverty.” 

Chris Juhn/MSR News

Personalized learning

Rogers suggested one solution, a more personalized learning experience that can relieve the students’ stress and give them initiative and interest in their studies. There has been significant interest in personalized learning across Minnesota, even among those not experiencing homelessness. A policy paper by Michael Lipset and Sophia Mathies states that over 25% of Minnesota students K-12 are now taking advantage of personalized learning courses. 

Students and parents want these options. “Minnesota has developed numerous opportunities for personalized learning over the last 30 plus years,” state Lipset and Mathies. “These opportunities are found within school districts as well as chartered, private, home, and online schools. 

“Their availability gives opportunities for thousands of students to learn to their potential while also being a resource for traditional learning. Expansion of personalized learning will benefit our increasingly diverse student population while also improving traditional learning for all,” say Lipset and Mathies. “School leaders and policymakers should make its growth a priority.” 

By embracing the close tie between education and homelessness, Rogers hopes to find some success. “Better education produces better jobs and fewer homeless. Lack of affordable housing hurts students in school and leads to young people with more problems—including homelessness.” 

R.B. King welcomes reader responses to Kaysi003@umn.edu.