Efforts to address homelessness continue in Rochester

March 24, 2019
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About 30 people have either been sleeping at the Salvation Army’s warming center or in Rochester’s skyways in recent weeks.

With the decision to keep the warming center at 20 First Ave. NE open nightly throughout March, Olmsted County staff has been attempting to keep tabs on how many of the county’s residents have nowhere else to turn.

“This will give us some data points to see what are the benefits of having the warming center open and what are the costs of having the warming center open,” said Dave Dunn, the county’s housing director.

The decision to test the option of keeping the center open came on the heels of a gathering called by Rochester Mayor Kim Norton on Feb. 13.

That meeting brought nearly 80 people together to express concerns and offer suggestions regarding gaps in services related to homelessness in the city.

Norton said the results from that meeting, which identified 15 to 20 gaps in services, were positive.

“The county has done a marvelous job in responding, as have some of the local businesses and community members,” she said.

A followup meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mayo Civic Center, with Cathy ten Broeke, the state’s director to Prevent and End Homelessness.

Norton said she hopes ten Broeke will be able to provide insights on what works and what doesn’t work to address homelessness in a community.

Olmsted County estimates indicate nearly 600 households face homelessness or are at risk of losing their homes, but Dunn noted all of those without a home are not seen, since they stay with friends, live in their cars or find other options, which can include a variety of local programs.

A Wilder Research report released Wednesday indicates statewide homelessness is on the rise.

Throughout Minnesota, the report indicated, the homeless population has risen 10 percent since 2015, which tops a 2012 peak. The count of 10,233 homeless people throughout the state is the highest number recorded in 30 years.

“It was a little disheartening to hear these numbers go up,” Dunn said, noting it’s unclear whether Olmsted County’s numbers are headed in the same direction.

He said concerns cited in the report are being seen locally.

“There are so few rental properties available for our clients that we are just struggling across the board to find places for people,” he said.

Norton has said she hopes gathering advocates and others together to discuss homelessness in the community will continue to point toward potential solutions.

“We still have this longer-term issue that is not going to be as visible in the next few months as the weather gets better,” she said, noting many homeless residents will likely leave the skyways for other options during the spring and summer.