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Data: Sheltered homelessness rose in Minnesota in 2021

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 6,461 Minnesotans experienced sheltered homelessness during the designated point in time in 2021, up from 5,991 in 2020.

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 6,461 Minnesotans experienced sheltered homelessness during the designated point in time in 2021, up from 5,991 in 2020.
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MANKATO — Minnesota had an 8% increase in sheltered homelessness in 2021, according to federal data stemming from last year's point-in-time count.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 6,461 Minnesotans experienced sheltered homelessness during the designated point in time in 2021, up from 5,991 in 2020.

Minnesota was alone among Midwest states in having an uptick in the measure, but the distinction comes with caveats.

Point-in-time counts occur nationwide by federal mandate each January, which in 2021 coincided with when Minnesota was using COVID-19 funding to provide shelter in hotels for people experiencing homelessness.

The funding seemed to work as intended during some of the worst stretches of the pandemic. Hotel stays kept people from being unsheltered, while also limiting how many people needed to stay in congregate settings such as homeless shelters.

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At the same time, the timing suggests it may have contributed to the statewide uptick in sheltered homelessness. People who'd otherwise be unsheltered or couch-hopping would count as sheltered if they were staying in hotels at the time.

"Minnesota did a really good job when the pandemic hit of moving people into shelter situations," said Erica Koser, co-director at Connections Shelter in Mankato. "A lot of people who would otherwise be in tent situations were now in sheltered situations. I would guess that's where the increase came from."

Even with the hotel stays and eviction protections earlier in the pandemic, Connections still saw high demand for its shelter beds. Demand rose even more during the shelter's latest season, which started in October.

"From our end of things, our waiting list has never been as long as it has been this year," Koser said.

Connections recently participated in the 2022 point-in-time homelessness count along with numerous other area agencies including Minnesota Valley Action Council, Partners for Housing, The Salvation Army and The Reach Resource Center.

Pandemic-related challenges led to a scaled-down 2021 count on unsheltered individuals. The 2022 count in late January resumed those efforts.

Data from the 2022 count likely won't be available until the spring. Andrew Pietsch, Blue Earth County's regional housing supports supervisor, said he'll be interested to see what impact the loss of COVID-19 funds for housing assistance has on homelessness numbers.

"We're going to see some impact, and best case is we see a minimal impact," he said.

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Another gauge on Minnesota homelessness, the normally triennial Wilder Research study, will be returning in October 2022 after a one-year delay. It could give a good indication of the pandemic's effect on homelessness, Pietsch said, because the last Wilder study for Minnesota was pre-pandemic in 2018.

Wilder's Minnesota study has different parameters than the federal point-in-time study. One of the big differences is people in couch-hopping situations don't count as homeless in the federal numbers, but do count as homeless in Wilder's study.

Although still helpful, the federal count's parameters lead to an underestimate on homelessness, especially youth homelessness.

(c)2022 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related Topics: HOMELESSNESS
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