Beyond Planning: Minneapolis and Hennepin County


National Alliance to End Homelessness

Solutions Brief | September 28, 2010

Files: PDF | 37 KB | 2 pages

On Thursday, October 21 at 3 p.m. ET, the Alliance will host the first of a two-part webinar series on strategies to build community support for and incorporate youth-specific objective into your Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. This webinar series provides an in-depth look into some of the youth-related strategies highlighted in the Beyond Planning article written about Hennepin County. You can register for this webinar here.

In 2006 Hennepin County and Minneapolis officials partnered with leaders from the state of Minnesota and the local provider, consumer, faith, and private sector communities to draft Heading Home Hennepin. The plan emphasizes prevention, housing, and improved service delivery for the entire homeless population, including youth. The plan articulates a clear vision for these focus areas in six goals.

  • Prevent homelessness
  • Provide coordinated outreach
  • Develop housing opportunities
  • Improve service delivery
  • Build [consumer] capacity for self support
  • Implement system improvements

Hennepin stakeholders began implementing Heading Home Hennepin within one month of the plan’s completion. In just three years, the community achieved many significant outcomes. Prevention resources were doubled, and over 1,400 new housing opportunities have been created for people experiencing homelessness, which is nearly one-third of the community’s 5,000 unit goal. In addition, the community surpassed its goal to create 750 housing units for single adults by 146 units. The community built upon its previous success in reducing family homelessness by rapidly re-housing 2,800 homeless households within two years of completing the plan. Further, Hennepin targeted housing and services to the 100 top "users" of its emergency services, generating an average cost savings of $13,000 per person per year. Finally, Hennepin has significantly increased housing opportunities and services for its homeless youth by creating over 50 percent of its target housing stock for youth and improving access to services.

The Plan

Minneapolis and Hennepin set and accomplished an aggressive goal to create the Ten Year Plan in 100 days. The Mayor and a County Commissioner initiated the planning process and hired a Homeless Coordinator to manage it. Prior to beginning the planning process the Coordinator spent 18 months researching promising practices, national trends, and other community plans. A 70-member Commission to End Homelessness was created to draft the plan, and over 300 community leaders and stakeholders participated in Commission committees on single adults, youth, families, and finance. The committees used the Coordinator’s research and their knowledge of the local system and resources to draft the plan. The plan includes specific steps for implementation, and high-level government officials and influential community leaders co-chaired the Commission to ensure that recommendations were realized. The city and county jointly hired the Homeless Coordinator and funded a city-county office to manage implementation.

Coordination and Collaboration

More than 125 nonprofit organizations, government agencies, faith-based alliances, businesses and citizen groups help implement Heading Home Hennepin. Maximizing their joint impact requires effective coordination and collaboration. Three separate entities—the Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness; the Hennepin County Housing and Homeless Initiatives Department (HHI); and the Hennepin County Housing, Community Works, and Transit Department are responsible for ensuring that Hennepin County’s housing and homeless services operations happen cohesively. They use several strategies to do so.

To begin, the entities have clear leadership responsibilities for implementing Heading Home Hennepin. HHI oversees and administers service contracts and disperses all federal, state, and local government funds related to homeless services. The Hennepin County Housing, Community Works, and Transit Department manages affordable housing related matters, including the development of affordable and supportive housing. Finally, the Office to End Homelessness leads coordination and collaboration within and across every level of leadership, services and activities. This includes ensuring that everyone can engage in Hennepin’s efforts to end homelessness and fostering the political and community will and resources needed to energize these efforts.

The Office to End Homelessness manages most other activities related to coordination and collaboration. First, encouraging transparency and communication is key to the Office’s ability to fulfill its role. The Office organizes monthly meetings between the leading entities to share information and discuss interrelated and overlapping tasks. These meetings also facilitate joint planning, resource coordination and leveraging, and collaborative implementation concerning new legislation, programs, and funding.

Second, the Office manages work groups that include a mix of providers, government agency representatives, advocates, and others. Work group members meet monthly to update each other on service and operations developments within their organizations, and plan coordination to avoid unnecessary duplication of activities. Annually, the groups evaluate their accomplishments; update their goals, benchmarks, and strategies; identify solutions to system gaps, barriers and changes in the environment; and add, modify or remove work groups to reflect system needs.

Finally, the Office meets regularly and hosts events with stakeholders who indirectly, but significantly, impact the homeless assistance system (e.g. county commissioners, council members, funders, downtown business community, etc.). Meetings are used to update stakeholders on progress and engage them in activities as needed. For example, funders may be asked to support a pilot project, or policymakers may be asked to provide additional resources for specific system needs or initiatives. Other meetings or events, such as Project Homeless Connect, may be used to expand housing opportunities, encourage involvement from faith based groups, or introduce new employment opportunities.

Pilot Projects

The Office to End Homelessness regularly pilots new projects to explore innovative and sustainable solutions to homelessness. Pilots often start with private funds and are sustained by public funds. For example, the Frequent Users Service Enhancement (FUSE) Project was started with a grant from the Corporation for Supportive Housing. The agency contracted for the pilot places frequent users of shelter, jail, hospital and detox facilities into housing. Participants are provided with wraparound services that reduce their use of high-cost public services, such as jail and hospitals. Post housing, FUSE generates an average of $13,000 in per person public service cost reductions. FUSE is now a permanent program in Hennepin’s homeless assistance system.

Another example is Hennepin’s Currie Avenue Partnership, which started with $350,000 raised by the business and faith communities. This funding was used to hire 10 case managers to house 150 disabled single adults from a downtown shelter, and connect them to disability income, benefits and services through a state-run program. After case managers house participants and connect them to mainstream benefits, they continue to work with the same clients for the remainder of their time in the program. The reimbursements from the state program pay for the case manager’s services, sustaining the initial private investment indefinitely. Hennepin pilots many other solutions to homelessness that result in system-wide implementation, including some of the youth homelessness solutions described in the next section.

Solutions to Youth Homelessness

In stark contrast to other communities that provide little or no services for homeless youth, Hennepin’s youth receive many of the same services as adults tailored to their particular needs. For example, Street Works is a program that provides outreach and in-reach services for street youth and youth in adult shelters and programs. The program connects 18 to 23 year-old clients to age appropriate programs, services, and interventions. Hennepin’s youth prevention and diversion programs target youth aging out of foster care and LGBT youth. Examples include the Transition to Independence Program (TIP), which assisted over 130 youth in its first year of operations. In TIP, youth aging out of foster care move into transitional housing, college dormitories, market rate housing with transitional services, or other young-adult appropriate housing. Program participants receive budget counseling and stipends to supplement their individualized budget plans. Participants also receive access to an emergency fund to help with unanticipated expenses that impact their ability to pay for housing (e.g., car repair or job loss), a resource advocate, and a volunteer mentor.

Hennepin has provided 164 new youth housing opportunities since initiating its Ten Year Plan implementation. Youth housing programs include the following:

  • “Host Homes,” which places homeless LGBT youth whose circumstances have impacted their housing stability with volunteer families who “raise” them until they move on to independence.
  • The “24/7” program, which places youth aging out of foster care in scattered site rental units, and matches them with a Life Coach to help them transition into independent living; and
  • Nicollet Square, a 42-unit, congregate transitional living program for youth aging out of foster care and experiencing long-term homelessness. The facility is part of a mixed-use real estate project, and includes a retail store on its ground floor that will employ youth from the program to give them job skills, work experience, and leadership development.

Youth-specific objectives are identified for every goal in the Ten Year Plan. In addition, the community identified a youth-specific staff person to partner with the Office to End Homelessness who ensures that youth are continually prioritized as Hennepin moves forward with its Ten Year Plan. The youth coordinator also supports the work groups (noted above) that are youth-specific.