Take Five! Q & A with R.T. Rybak

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Expert Q & A | December 1, 2006

R.T. Rybak
Mayor, Minneapolis, Minnesota

What is the newest issue emerging in homelessness policy?
In Minneapolis, one of the newest issues emerging in our homelessness policy is that we recognize that we can end homelessness for people, rather than simply manage them in our systems. We are also very aware of the public cost of allowing homelessness to persist, both in dollars and in quality of life. This year we will be taking a more assertive role in providing outreach to people on the streets, especially those most in contact with our police department through low level livability offenses.

What issue in homelessness policy should everyone be reminded of?
The most important issue in homelessness policy is adherence to the principle that homelessness can be prevented and ended for less money than the alternatives. There is no simple band-aid, but there are structural changes that we can make that affect how we respond to people on the street who need housing.

How did you start working in the field of homelessness (or housing)?
From the moment I decided to run for mayor, affordable housing was one of my top priorities and a major issue in my first campaign. Once elected, I was dedicated to creating a $10 million affordable housing trust fund for the City and doing everything possible to provide housing for all our residents. With the leadership of Philip Mangano, the federal homelessness coordinator, I knew that we finally had the partnership of the federal government to end homelessness and needed to act more comprehensively and aggressively on that front as well.

Where do you draw your inspiration?
Once when I was a newspaper reporter in 1983 I wrote about homeless emergencies and the “temporary” homeless shelters we needed. I met a family from Cleveland whose father recently lost his job as a janitor and had to leave their apartment. They were a hard-working middle-class family who hit a hard turn and were now living in a shelter. I am inspired by the stories of that family and the many families like them who face housing emergencies that make them homeless and far too often never get out. This is not an isolated case, but an ongoing crisis I see everyday. We have the power to stop it and for too long we haven’t.

Why do you think ending homelessness is possible?
There is now a tremendous amount of research throughout the nation showing that ending homelessness for people is attainable. City after city is reporting reductions in homelessness because of the implementation of best practices, from supportive housing to Housing First to Project Homeless Connect. Our intention is to take our own best practices and increase them to serve more people and to look to national best practices to help us fill in any gaps. There is no longer any guessing work in ending homelessness. We know what works and we are engaged in a broad coordinated effort, involving all sectors of our community. There is more national and local will to end this problem than ever before. Now is the time.