Minnesota welcomes NHSDC Spring conference 2014!
Welcome back, NHSDC! The last time you visited it was 2007, and a lot has changed. For all of us.
Within walking distance of the conference you’ll see the new Twins stadium, Target Field, as well as the remnants of the old Vikings stadium, the Metrodome, which was recently deflated to make way for a new one. Our transit system has expanded beyond the Blue Line (that some of you will ride from the airport), to include a commuter line to the northwest, and a soon-to-open Green Line connecting the Twin Cities’ downtowns. Minnesota also has changed politically, with the Governor’s office switching from Republican Tim Pawlenty, with his working class roots and presidential aspirations, to Democrat Mark Dayton, heir to a large department store chain, which has since become Target.
Other changes? All of us have been through the Great Recession. That global economic crisis, with its accompanying rise in joblessness and poverty rates, threw a definite curve ball to all of our local plans to end homelessness—and Minnesota was not immune. Our best point in time estimates suggest that the number of those experiencing homelessness in Minnesota grew by more than 50 percent from 2006 to 2012.
Source: Wilder Research, Minnesota Statewide Homeless Survey (most recently October 25, 2012). For Notes and additional details, click here)
Still, if any state in the union is positioned to end homelessness, it might be Minnesota. Minnesota has among the nation’s strongest local economies (3rd highest employment level, 9th highest household income), is more educated than most states (10th highest percentage of college graduates), and arguably has higher proportions of people engaged with solving problems than any other state (the highest voting rate and 5th highest rate of volunteerism).
In addition to those more general advantages, Minnesota is home to some distinctive and potentially nation-leading efforts related specifically to homelessness, including (but not limited to):
• A new state plan to end homelessness that incorporates 12 major strategies ranging from broad strategies to increase the availability of housing and services, to targeted strategies for veterans, and students. The plan was adopted by the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness, which was recently re-established to include the Governor’s cabinet-level leaders of several state agencies.
• Statewide Homeless Survey: My colleagues here at Wilder Research have conducted an in-depth survey of people experiencing homelessness throughout Minnesota every 3 years since 1991. This is a much more comprehensive effort that most point-in-time surveys, both in terms of the level of effort to identify those living in nonshelter locations, and in the range and depth of questions asked. The average interview exceeds 30 minutes in duration, and gets at a wide range of health, income, and disability concerns.
• Minnesota’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS): Is a statewide system including all 10 continuum of care regions, over 250 service providers and 650 end-users. To date the system has primarily focused on data collection and reporting for HUD as well as seven distinct state-level funding streams. But we have also found some space for innovations such a supporting on-going XML uploads and developing some useful annual dashboards based on data assembled for the national Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
Further, Minnesota’s HMIS is currently at the center of a broad “transformation” initiative, complete with a HUD-sponsored assessment, visioning sessions, and (currently) multiple working groups. This initiative is aimed at the same set of challenges and opportunities that HMIS administrators across the county are now facing: supporting coordinated assessment, providing more and better reporting, strengthening system governance, and generally becoming even more integral to local plans to end homelessness.
Interested in learning more about all of the efforts? Be sure to catch my colleagues Laura McLain and Michelle Gerrard, as well as Cathy ten Broeke, Minnesota’s Director to Prevent and End Homelessness. at the opening plenary of the NHSDC spring conference. The session begins at 8:30 AM on Thursday, May 1st. Some of us also will be presenting in two of the in-depth sessions that follow. We look forward to showcasing our work. Even more, we look forward to hearing your feedback and learning from your efforts to deal with an ever-changing environment.
Most importantly we look forward working with all of you to address one of the nation’s most complex and stubbornly persistent social problems.
-Craig Helmstetter, Senior Research Manager at Wilder Research, and project director of Minnesota’s HMIS