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Surveying the homeless for Hennepin County: 8 million stories in the naked city by Ann Treacy
January 24, 2019, 8:46 pm
Filed under: Minneapolis

Last night I joined about 50 other volunteers to survey people experiencing homeless for the Point in Time count for Hennepin County. I ask a bunch of questions; the answer-er gets $5. It’s less money than for the Wilder Survey, which is done every three years, but there are fewer and easier questions.

Volunteers attended a quick training where I learned that this is HUD-mandated reporting. I think the reporting is important – that which gets measured, gets done. But I’m not sure why volunteers are needed if HUD mandates it. At least three quarters of the people in the room were in the industry. They were outreach workers, shelter workers or maybe the brand new Commissioners (such as Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey, Jennifer Ho, head Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and a few folks from Met Council). Kudos and thanks to all of them for being there – but imagine if people got paid to administer the surveys.

Imagine if people got paid a living wage to do much of the work that many of us do as volunteers. Don’t get me wrong, I find the work interesting. I don’t mind doing it. But maybe if HUD is going to mandate the reporting, maybe they need to pay for it. And maybe that would help end homelessness for some people.

Back to the surveys … I pulled the cushy job interviewing folks at the train station at the Mall of America. It’s warm there, it’s well lit and there’s a bathroom. Others talked to people on the trains and in outside places. I spoke to a half a dozen people or so. I spoke to one guy in his 30s. He had a Master’s degree. He had been in the Twin Cities just a few months and had a criminal record. I spoke to a girl in her 20s who admitted that maybe she had some issues with drugs or alcohol – but she’s “working on that.” A few folks had been homeless for moths or a year. One was going to sleep outside. (It was 20 degrees and falling.) Most would hang around the trains until the coffee shops opened. Everyone I spoke to was under 50 years of age.

Everyone was pleasant, happy to talk and even happier for an opportunity to make a quick $5. A few wanted to know where to get more help. I had a brochure to share. Most had written off shelters because they seem full before they are even open. We learned that there are 1025 adults, 400-500 families and 75 youth sheltered in Hennepin County – and those beds are full.

My experience is only my experience and I think it you talk to one person experiencing homelessness, you know what it’s like for one person. Everyone’s story is different. But if you want to hear a lot of stories, you listen to my friend Monica, who spoke at the Legislature at 8 am yesterday and then spent her whole night (until 4am or later I’m sure!) doing surveys last night. If there are 8 million stories, she has heard 7 million of them!


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