by Sue Austreng
Rippling rivers and ancient trees, historic buildings and acres of fertile farmland dot Anoka County’s landscape.
Thousands of homes nestle in between, blanketing the horizons, providing warmth and shelter, comfort and security to Anoka County’s 362,000 residents.
But for 1,463 people, life in Anoka County means living without a permanent place to call home.
The Anoka County Continuum of Care (the county’s local planning group working to end homelessness) conducted its annual count of the county’s homeless Jan. 25.
Continuum of Care Coordinator Kristina Hayes said the PIT (point in time) survey was conducted at various places around the county: Northtown Mall area, various outdoor areas, bus stations, stores that are open 24 hours.
“In addition, service providers and Anoka County human services staff were also involved in completing the survey for anyone who came into contact with them that day or who they provide services for,” Hayes said.
During the survey, people were asked what their housing status was on the night of Jan. 25, and the survey collected information by age, gender and several sub-populations, such as veterans, individuals with mental illness, domestic violence survivors, felons and more.
Results of the PIT count show that 876 households – or 1,463 people – are currently homeless in Anoka County.
Anoka County’s count reveals a 0.2 percent increase in homeless people (single adults, adults in families, children in families and unaccompanied youth) compared with 2011 numbers.
According to Hayes, the report shows an increase of 72.1 percent in homeless single adults, 39.6 percent increase in homeless youth (ages 18-12) and a 22.4 percent increase in homeless unaccompanied youth.
The number of Anoka County’s homeless veterans also increased from seven in 2011 to 10 in 2012.
Profiles of homeless people in Anoka County include 17.9 percent who reported a mental illness, 12.4 percent who reported chronic substance abuse and 10.1 percent who were identified as felons or ex-offenders.
Anoka County’s PIT report shows that the homeless are finding shelter or temporary housing in a variety of ways.
People were counted as homeless if on the night of Jan. 25, they slept in one of the following places: their own apartment or home with the utilities shut off; doubled-up with family or friends as a result of a housing emergency/loss; treatment facility or jail (and were homeless on entry or will be homeless upon discharge); vehicle; outside; in another building not meant for human habitation; motel paid by household; motel paid by another agency; emergency shelter; or transitional housing.
The Jan. 25 PIT count shows that emergency shelters housed 72 homeless people on that day; 973 were doubling up and staying with family, friends or acquaintances in their home; 13 were living in some other type of building (shed, ice fish house, etc.); three of the homeless were in the county jail that night; 85 were staying in a motel; 29 were living in a motel with fees paid by an agency; 15 were living outside; 155 were in transitional housing; 84 were living in a treatment facility or are hospitalized; 25 were living in their vehicles; and nine were living in an apartment or home with utilities shut off.
That’s a total of 1,463 homeless people living in Anoka County.
Additional analysis of the results will be conducted and a comprehensive report will be available by the end of March, Hayes said.
At that time, additional information will be available on the Anoka County website at www.AnokaCounty.us/homeless.
Also, Anoka County’s PIT results will be combined with other local planning groups in Scott, Carver, Dakota and Washington counties and are then reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in April, Hayes said.
The PIT results are used to determine future funding for the Continuum of Care as well as planning at the local level when various grants become available for homeless providers.
While Hayes said that the Continuum of Care Committee has continually worked to increase awareness of homelessness in Anoka County, now the question is, “What can I do to help?”
The quick answer involves awareness, advocacy and action.
“Awareness” includes knowing the signs that someone may be at risk of homelessness. Those signs (listed on the Anoka County community development website) include:
• Inconsistent work history (e.g. hired/fired, hours consistently reduced)
• Struggling financially
• Behavior that may indicate mental health problems
• Behavior that may indicate potential substance problems
• Domestic violence victim
• Deteriorating family relationships
Those wanting to help end homelessness can practice “advocacy” by supporting these community investments in affordable housing
• Dedicated funding to address homelessness
• Creation of a homeless trust fund
• Zoning actions that create affordable units in new/redeveloped properties
• Call for employers to pay a living wage
Folks can take “action” by:
• Learning about community resources
• Participating in local homeless planning groups
• Holding food and clothing drives
• Providing donations, financial and other in-kind support to non-profits
To become involved in the county’s homeless planning groups, contact Hayes at 763-323-5707 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.