The Potluck

Nearly 20,000 Minnesotans were homeless on any night in 2018, report says

By: - March 26, 2020 9:59 am

A homeless man sits on Broad Street in Richmond, Va., March 18, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Nearly 20,000 Minnesotans were homeless on any given night in 2018, according to a new study released Wednesday.

The estimate comes from Wilder Research’s most recent one-day study of homelessness in Minnesota, conducted in 2018. The nonprofit research group counted 10,233 people experiencing homelessness on a single night in October that year, up 10% from 2015. They use the count and methods of statistical sampling to arrive at their final estimate. 

The overall increase in homelessness was driven by a 62% increase from 2015 in the number of people staying outside or doubled up in living spaces, rather than in formal shelters, according to the report.

The change points to a statewide shortage of shelter space and services for people without stable housing, the report says. Nearly one-third of people in Wilder’s study said they had been turned away from a shelter in the previous three months because there wasn’t enough space.

“Simply put, many people are staying outside of the formal shelter system because there is nowhere else to go; shelters are at capacity and there is no available affordable housing,” the report says.

More than half of respondents said they struggled to find affordable housing. The majority of people surveyed had at least some income, but their median reported monthly income of $550 is less than fair market rent of $864 for a one-bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities or $576 in greater Minnesota, Wilder found.

Half the adults surveyed are on a waiting list for subsidized housing, according to the report. The average wait time is one year.

The new report comes as homeless shelters scramble to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic. Communal meals, limited resources and lack of private living quarters make these facilities ill-equipped to stop the spread of the virus. More than half of homeless Minnesotans also have chronic illnesses and roughly 10% are over 55, putting them at higher risk for severe symptoms.

Ramsey and Hennepin counties each voted in mid-March to create quarantine and isolation spaces for homeless people. Ramsey County will spend $1.8 million to open two facilities, and Hennepin County will spend $3 million to lease spaces — including hotels — that have individual units with separate bathrooms. By March 21, 130 people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for severe symptoms had voluntarily moved into separate hotel rooms under Hennepin County’s plan.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.