United Way Goodhue

United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counites celebrated their 60th anniversary in 2019, photo by United Way

The United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties (United Way of GWP) recently released a statement determining fiction versus fact about homelessness in Minnesota. The statement is in part of their current focus on connecting those in need with stable housing and educating the community on ways they can help. 

“Homelessness is an issue that affects our local communities,” Jessica Seide, board president for United Way of GWP, said. We are expecting a sharp rise when the eviction and foreclosure moratorium extension ends in August.”

According to a 2020 study conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), over 567,115 people experienced homelessness last year. Out of that, 7,977 Minnesotans were experiencing homelessness on a given night.

“It’s a vulnerable thing to experience homelessness,” Sarah Lindner, community relations and philanthropy director for United Way of GWP, said. “We treat everyone who comes into our office with respect and dignity. Our goal is to empower people with the information and resources they need to meet their immediate needs.”

Fiction vs Fact

Fiction: People who are homeless don’t want to work, are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Fact: There is no single issue that directly leads to homelessness.

There are many factors that can lead to homelessness, including domestic violence, lack of affordable housing, physical disabilities, poverty, personal situations and mental illness.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), around 44% of homeless people have jobs. The major concern is that as housing prices increase, wages do not.

The NCH also states that addiction can be the cause of homelessness, but it can also result from being homeless. When people are thrown onto the streets due to different circumstances, that new stressful life can lead to them relying on illegal substances to cope.

Fiction: Only large cities experience high rates of homelessness.

Fact: The high cost of living compared to low wages increases the risk of people experiencing homelessness everywhere.

According to the United Way of GWP, one-third of Minnesotans who experience homelessness live in rural communities. Since most resources like shelters are constantly full, homeless people in rural areas often use other means of housing options like churches, cars, and tents. Most of them go unseen because they aren’t sleeping on benches or conducting other “typical” homeless activities.

Fiction: Homelessness affects everyone equally regardless of gender or race.

Fact: Males, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are groups that are more at risk than others.

According to the NAEH, in 2019 out of the 567,115 people experiencing homelessness, 343,187 were male. 

Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are also at a higher risk of being homeless than all other ethnic groups in America. With Pacific Islanders, 160 out of 10,000 experience homeless, which is significantly higher than the national average of 17 out of 10,000 people, according to NAEH.

Fiction: People who are experiencing homelessness are all single individuals.

Fact: In America, many families experience homelessness.

According to the NAEH, adults and children in families make up around 30% of the homeless population in America. It is estimated that 171,575 people in families, which is about 55,739 families, were identified as homeless during January 2020.

To help the growing homeless population in local communities, United Way of GWP has started focusing on housing and the most vulnerable.

We have dedicated $50,000 to be used to help those currently experiencing homelessness and to keep others who are at risk from becoming so,” Seide said. “We are partnering with government and nonprofit partners who are committed to finding long-term, sustainable solutions for families impacted by homelessness.”

This week alone the United Way of GWP has helped three individuals and one family who are experiencing homelessness.

“Our goal is to meet immediate needs and connect them with nonprofits and government resources that can help get them off the streets and into stable housing,” Lindner said. “One client who visits frequently says this is like his therapy. Of course, we are not trained therapists, but we can offer a listening ear, encouragement and support.”

Resource programs from United Way of GWP:

  • Familywize: This is a free reusable savings card for prescriptions. Visit singlecare.com to sign up and print off a discount card.

  • Packing for the weekend: A free meal program for children who do not have access to food on non-school days. Contact your school’s social worker for more information.

  • United Way 211: This free and confidential community helpline with different resources and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dial 2-1-1, (651)-291-0211 or 1-800-543-7709 for help.

  • The People’s Pamphlet: A free resource guide that lists many different programs for help with health, food, finances, disabilities and more.

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