The Potluck

Staying in a shelter will be free for families in Hennepin County

By: - December 10, 2021 1:33 pm
hennepin county government center

Hennepin County Government Center. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Homeless families in the state’s largest county that move into a shelter will not be expected to pay for their stay, thanks to a unanimous vote of the Hennepin County Board. The move lifts a requirement that led some families to use public benefits like Social Security to pay shelter costs. 

Single people haven’t had to pay for shelters since an early pandemic-era rule became permanent.

“This is a huge change and a huge barrier that is now being removed so that more families can have access to that precious income that they do have to be able to prepare for permanent housing,” commissioner Angela Conley said during the board’s Tuesday meeting.

Commissioners said that the change will be especially helpful to Black and Indigenous people, who make up 53% of people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota despite being just 8.4% of the state’s population.

Rinal Ray, Chief Executor of People Serving People, said that the change would be good for the homeless population, the shelters and the county, and that it would reduce the number of families who return to the shelter. 

“For a long time, the top complaint that we heard was about this– about self-pay,” Ray said. “There was a perception that we or the county were taking families’ dollars.” 

The number of households staying in shelters has remained low in Hennepin County since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the state implemented an eviction moratorium to keep Minnesotans in their homes. Just 56 households stayed in a Hennepin County shelter for an average of 54 days in March of this year, compared to 153 households in February of 2020. 

Families with an income paid an average of $200 per stay in 2020.

The eviction moratorium ended in October, meaning landlords can once again evict tenants unless they have pending applications for rental assistance with the state. Minnesotan renters can apply for benefits if they owe back rent or utilities.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the county rented hotel rooms for homeless people who contracted COVID-19. While individuals frequently stayed in these rooms, it was rare for families to occupy them, and the overall practice ended.

Hennepin County spent more than $16 million on the hotel isolation program in 2020.

The shelter policy change will be funded by the Minnesota Family Investment Program and will not affect county property taxes

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Anna Koenning
Anna Koenning

Anna Koenning is a reporting intern for the Reformer. She covered international news for Madrid-based El Independiente and works as a barista when she isn't at the Reformer or in class at the University of Minnesota, where she studies journalism, Spanish and political science.