A statewide snapshot will be taken on January 26 in hopes of better understanding the current homeless population to better address the issue.
Carly came to Open Doors for Youth in Elk River about five years ago when she was 17, after suffering abuse and neglect. She lived in a tent with her boyfriend until it got cold, then they started living in his car, moving around the area.
She was a statistic then, and a success now.
At the time, she was one of countless homeless youth and adults living a mostly invisible existence in central Minnesota communities including Elk River, Rogers, Otsego and Zimmerman, not to mention statewide and urban settings. .
Those in the suburbs and more rural areas do not appear on street corners and in alleyways as they do in the big city, but they are there, invisible as their existence might be.
They could stay with friends or extended family, especially right now as temperatures drop to single digits and lower.
They might jump off a couch with no permanent place to live, sleep in a car, fish shack, or tent.
Those in social service, housing, nonprofit, education, church and county government circles would like to have a better idea of how many people end up in these positions. Once they do, better ways to address homelessness can be formulated.
Once a year, a major effort is made to do just that throughout Minnesota. This point-in-time count, or PIT count, is Minnesota’s annual count of all homeless people in protected and unprotected situations. This count is done at any given time nationwide and is required by HUD, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
These large-scale, community-wide efforts identify people experiencing homelessness who might not otherwise be counted, namely those who are in unprotected situations, or who live on the streets or in place not intended for habitation (such as an abandoned car or building).
In Minnesota, those who double, meaning they jump off the couch or stay temporarily with friends and family, are also counted. The fact that these people do not congregate makes counting them more difficult, but no less important to be counted.
Doors Open Youth Executive, Housing Specialist Partners
Elk River, with the help of Open Doors for Youth, a homeless outreach program for teens and young adults, has a woman on the front lines pushing to make the count as complete as possible in the Elk River area. ‘Elk River and Sherburne County.
Cindy Ley, executive director of Open Doors for Youth, which opened in March 2015, has been the local PIT Count coordinator since 2020.
She took it on with passion, knowing she had a lot to learn in her role as General Manager of Open Doors since 2017.
She first teamed up with Mary Jo Cobb, the former director of health and social services for Sherburne County, who has since retired.
She continues to work with Sherburne County Health and Human Services, which is now led by Amanda Larson.
Sherburne County also added a Housing Resource Specialist position in September 2020. Lori Irwin, who previously worked on housing through jobs with the Salvation Army and Tri-CAP, coordinates the PIT Count of this year with Ley.
“It’s important that we know the real number,” Irwin said. “A lot of people who are homeless are double-crossed, and it’s hard to get a good count.”
Ley and Irwin are increasingly tapping into their contacts in Sherburne County communities.
They will cover the area with flyers.
They have established partnerships with schools in the region. The hope is to educate students, families and adults about the upcoming count on January 26, to get as accurate a reading as possible of homelessness in the area. This effort attempts to highlight the impact of communities in reducing and ending homelessness.
“While it’s not possible to count every homeless person every day, it does provide a snapshot of comparison over time,” Ley said. “The number of homeless people is grossly underreported.”
Homelessness is addressed regionally through a continuum of care model, a community/regional strategic plan to collaborate and provide housing and services that meet the housing needs of people who are homeless and unstable.
There are 10 continuum of care models in Minnesota. Sherburne County is part of the Central Continuum of Care, which includes 13 central Minnesota counties.
Ley said the year-over-year report is helpful, but realistically the actual number of homeless people is likely to be twice or more than any count done.
It’s one of the reasons Ley is so determined to make the most of the effort. She knows from research that homelessness is most effectively addressed when people can receive help in their home community.
Nearest huts in Anoka, St. Cloud
It’s tough in Elk River, with the closest shelters in Anoka and St. Cloud. Open Doors for Youth is useful as a drop-in center where clients aged 16-24 receive services, but it is not a shelter.
The community used to benefit from the Great River Family Promise. Homeless children and families in the area have benefited from this ministry of homelessness, but it has twice fallen on hard times. The first time was financial in nature, and the second time was the forces created by the pandemic.
The operation died out in the summer of 2020. Great River Family Promise executive director Jess Harfiel stepped down after more than seven years at the helm to take up another social service position.
The nonprofit emergency housing provider that used a rotational model with churches in Sherburne and Wright counties collapsed for lack of volunteers, as those who helped the most were among the most vulnerable to COVID- 19.
Hartfiel ran a drop-in center for people experiencing housing instability in Elk River, and the churches took turns housing these people and their families on evenings and weekends.
The operation went well after going through financial difficulties that led the organization to go on hiatus in September 2016. The organization emerged stronger than ever in March 2017 and managed to cultivate continued financial support.
“The pandemic has cut at the heart of what we do,” she told Star News in 2020.
The organization served over 200 children and their families during his tenure.
Homeless youth can find services locally
Homeless youth always have a place to receive services. Ley and his staff know what it’s like to close the doors of the nonprofit at night and the young people don’t want to leave because they have nowhere to go.
In 2021, Open Doors for Youth served 81 unduplicated youth and recorded a total of 967 visits. Since opening in March 2015, the nonprofit has served 390 unduplicated young people and recorded a total of 5,138 visits. Open Doors for Youth also has heartwarming success stories.
Carly is one of them. She combined a mix of hard work, courage and determination with the services provided by Open Doors for Youth and other agencies. Carly (pseudonym) changed the trajectory of her life and that of a young son.
With the help of housing services Open Doors and Catholic Charities, Carly and her boyfriend acquired housing when they started renting a room in a house.
Open Doors staff lost contact with her for about a year, but when she reconnected with the people of Elk River, she was staying at Norwood Young America and needed help connecting to resources. They had lost their homes in the Elk River area and had moved around a lot.
She eventually returned to the Elk River area, now as a single mother. Carly was determined to break the cycle of violence in her family, wanting to be the kind of mother who provides a safe, loving and stable life for her son.
Bravely, she returns to high school to get her diploma. She is currently attending university, pursuing a degree in accounting, and has a steady job.
She is in a stable and supportive relationship, engaged and expecting her second child. She and her fiancé also recently bought a house.
Homelessness PIT Count Centers
Sherburne County Health and Social Services
13880 Business center. Dr., Elk River, Jan. 27, 28 and 31 and Feb. 1 and 2. 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
554 Third St. NW, Ste. 201, Elk River, January 27 and 31 and February 1 and 2 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Receive a $10 gift card, a hot meal and some basic necessities.
12621 Elk Lake Rd. Northwest, Elk River
Jan. 31: 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
2 Feb. : 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Receive a $10 gift card, food and some basic necessities.
Princeton student Services
1506 First Street, Princeton
Receive a $10 gift card and a hot meal.
People experiencing homelessness were urged to show up for gift cards, free food and a chance to be counted – and better served in the future
Are you or someone you know:
• “Couch-hopping” without a permanent place of residence?
• Sleeping in a car, fish shack, motorhome or something similar?
• Sleeping or camping outside?
• Are you doubling up at a friend’s or extended family member’s house without a home?
Local social service professionals, non-profit organizations, educators, churches and local government units work to ensure you are counted if you encounter any of the above types of homelessness the week of January 27 to February 2.
This annual PIT (Point In Time) count is a count of homeless people across the United States. in a single January night. To be precise, this year it’s January 26th.
People experiencing homelessness are invited to complete a short anonymous survey up to one week after January 26.
The PIT Count is important because:
• It allows community leaders to know the needs of the homeless.
• Helps state leaders create plans to prevent and end homelessness.
• He could get more money for programs and affordable housing options.