County seeks state homeless prevention funds

Anoka County has applied for a $715,000, two-year grant through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s (MHFA) family homeless prevention and assistance program.

That’s a 30 percent increase over the amount that the county received for the program in the last biennium.

The Anoka County Board, on the recommendation of its Intergovernmental and Community Relations Committee, approved the competitive grant application for the time period, July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2015, at its April 23 meeting.

According to Karen Skepper, county director of government and community relations, the MHFA is expected to make its funding decisions in late June.

“The purpose of the request for increased funding is to expand our existing programs to help families and individuals in the county who are homeless or at risk for it,” Skepper said.

“We won’t be making changes to our existing program.”

One area of expansion will be at Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, which with its move last year will be able to increase its bed capacity to 60, Skepper said.

“That’s a huge opportunity right there,” she said.

The need for homeless prevention funding has not diminished, according to Skepper.

Numbers from the annual homeless count, specific to each county in the Twin Cities area, that took place in January have not yet been finalized, Skepper said.

But preliminary figures show that the 2013 homeless count in Anoka County is higher than 2012, she said.

And that’s especially true for families and children, Skepper said.

The county’s point-in-time count found that from the year 2010 to 2012, the number of households identified as homeless on the January count date increased 9.25 percent, with an increase of 27.2 percent over the same period in the number of individuals who are homeless, according to Skepper.

The dollars the county receives through the MHFA program are used for direct assistance from the county’s economic assistance department and by five community service agencies with which it contracts.

Those partners are Alexandra House, Community Emergency Assistance Program (CEAP), Rise Inc., Stepping Stone Emergency Housing (SSEH) and the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.

According to Skepper in the grant application she submitted to MHFA, the partnerships developed between Anoka County and its collaborative partners will provide a full range of support services including outreach, case management, advocacy, information and referral, legal intervention, money management-budget counseling, independent living skills instruction, housing search assistance, crisis intervention and follow-up services as needed “to best stabilize participant households in permanent housing.”

In addition, the county program assists eligible households including single adults, families with children and youth who are experiencing hopelessness or at-risk of becoming homeless; these households may include veterans, persons with mental illness, chemical dependency, HIV-AIDS, victims of domestic violence and the chronically homeless, Skepper wrote in the grant application.

Financial assistance for housing-related costs will include rent, rent subsidies, application fees, deposits, lot rent, mortgage payments, utilities, delinquent taxes and “other costs necessary to keep clients housed or to help them obtain housing,” she wrote.

Under the county’s grant application, direct client assistance would be pegged at $1,000 per household over the two years of the grant or up to $2,000 per household in the biennium if the household is receiving ongoing case management services.

That would be unchanged from the assistance limits in the current biennium, according to Skepper.

Of the $715,000 request, Skepper said $400,260.90 would go to support services, $308,839.10 for direct assistance and $5,900 for administration costs.

In the application, Skepper spelled out which agency would be responding to needs in specific areas – youth, domestic violence, single adults and individuals with mental illness.

• Youth – YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities, youth intervention services for youth up to the age of 21 along with families of dependent children who are homeless, at-risk of becoming homeless or precariously housed in the county; CEAP – prevention for both families and youth.

• Domestic violence – Alexandra House, the only service agency in the county that focuses specifically on providing services to single adults and families with dependent children that are victims of domestic or sexual violence.

• Single adults – Stepping Stone Emergency Housing, the only service agency operating a homeless shelter for adults age 18 and older in the county; Anoka County Economic Assistance Department which targets single adults to ensure housing stabilization.

• Individuals with mental illness – Rise Inc., whose family homeless prevention and assistance program services are targeted to individuals and households where mental illness is prevalent and whose homelessness and/or housing status is complicated and/or affected by mental illness related difficulties.

According to Skepper, data from Rise showed that it had to turn away 830 households from ongoing housing support services needed to obtain or maintain housing stability because of lack of staffing and program capacity.

She is optimistic that MHFA will have the money in place to fund the family homeless prevention and assistance program over the next biennium, Skepper said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]