Review of a potential blueprint to battle homelessness has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but its impact is already being seen.
“In a lot of ways, I think the most valuable thing out of this effort was the process in doing the registry rather than the specific recommendations,” said Dave Dunn, Olmsted County’s housing director.
The registry was three days of intensive outreach aimed at locating unsheltered homeless people in late October. It found 105 people, and revealed that 75 had fallen off the list that could help them find housing.
Since then, several have been housed.
Dunn said the effort, which involved several local organizations, helped build new lines of communication.
Work being done during the COVID-19 pandemic has benefited, he added.
With a statewide stay-at-home order, the city quickly created a day center for people facing homelessness, and the county and Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota moved the nightly warming center to the same location. Other groups have supported the operations.
“If anything good has come out of this pandemic, it has been really the amount of partnerships and collaboration that has occurred with our nonprofits and government together,” said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton. “I think that will only bode well for the future.”
The blueprint created by the Corporation for Supportive Housing suggests establishing a formalized council of public and private entities to help guide future efforts and maintain communication.
Dunn and Norton said the effort could help city and county officials continue the partnerships that have flourished in recent months.
The Corporation for Supportive Housing suggests appointing a project manager, as well as an outreach team, to achieve the goals.
In all, the proposal is estimated to cost approximately $785,000 when combined with a recommendation to establish specific sites for people to file for potential housing help.
Olmsted County Board Chairman Matt Flynn said he worries the proposal may be too broad, with a five-person outreach team designed to help an unsheltered homeless population that totaled 105 in October.
Dunn, however, said much of the recommended staffing already exists under multiple agencies.
What has been lacking is coordinated communication between the diverse groups, he said.
Of the proposed staffing needs, he said the only likely county employee would be the overall project manager, with other staff coming from local nonprofits or alternate funding sources.
Norton said the one concern the proposed blueprint fails to adequately address is where people facing homelessness can go until they are matched with housing opportunities.
“We need a place for people to get off the street and start on a path to have a place to live,” she said.
Without an adequate facility, Norton has asked state lawmakers to allow state housing funds to be used for a center to address homeless needs. She said it would go a long way to helping people spend less time without a permanent roof over their heads.
Weeks before pandemic emergencies were declared locally, Olmsted County commissioners had instructed staff to consider options based on the potential for new state funding, but no commitments were made.
The county is working with Center City Housing of Duluth to build a 30-unit complex for homeless and disabled residents, and its Housing and Redevelopment Authority is considering reallocating a portion of its budget to help people avoid homelessness.
Combined with lost revenues and the anticipation for added service requests, city and county officials acknowledged some actions related to the proposed blueprint will likely be put on hold.
“A year ago, I would have said we could reallocate the money,” Norton said. “We don’t have the money to reallocate.”