On March 21, 2019, the Minneapolis StarTribune featured a bold center heading: Homelessness Increases 10%. The article reported on the Wilder Foundation’s 2018 study on homelessness in Minnesota, outlining the substantial challenges facing the seven-county metro area. One of Wilder’s researchers, Michelle Gerrard, summed it up this way: “A lot of people are living from one paycheck to another; they are one health problem away from a crisis.”
That Wilder Foundation study was at the heart of the most recent gathering of the Multi-Religious Fellows cohort. Specialists in this domain, representing national, regional, and local faith initiatives met with the Fellows for their April meeting on housing and homelessness in the Twin Cities metro area.
Naomi Cytron, regional manager for community development of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, opened the gathering by citing recent studies emphasizing “that our zip code matters more to health than our genetic code.” She underscored the relationship between where we live to every aspect of our personal and communal lives. That interconnectedness between location and education, health care, quality of life, job prospects, transportation, etc., is now the central focus of the Feds’ research and policy formulation. Cytron urged faith leaders to invite their communities into conversation and action that could harness the considerable resources of religious communities on behalf of the disadvantaged and shelter deprived.
Ellen Sahli, President of the Twin Cities-based Family Housing Fund, amplified that opening presentation by underscoring the risks lack of affordable housing poses to the entire region. Various factors contribute to this critical shortage, from affordability to lack of supply to current industry practices, all of which especially threaten the most impoverished. “Ignoring our housing challenge,” Sahli underlined, “puts families, children, and our region’s competitive advantage at risk.” While stressing these challenges, Sahli also noted some heralds of hope. More Americans than ever before realize the need for affordable housing, noting recent polls showing that “85% of the public believes that a safe, decent affordable place to live should be a top national priority.” Echoing Cytron’s call, Sahli urged the Fellows to advocate for affordable housing resources and to engage their respective communities in housing discussions.
The seminar concluded with input from two local faith-based initiatives. Lee Blons is executive director of the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, a cooperative of congregations united in action to create homes and advance equitable housing. Joe Kreisman is executive director of the Downtown Coalition to End Homelessness (DCEH), a group of 17 downtown Minneapolis congregations who come together to do education, advocacy, and action around homelessness and affordable housing.
These organizations argue the need for both service and justice. Each works to meet the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, even as it works to address systemic issues creating those needs. Stories from the streets that Blons and Kreisman shared powerfully demonstrated the interface between all of the topics the Seminar addressed thus far. Criminal records, levels of education, jobs, wealth all impact the ability of people to get housing – or not. These two final speakers demonstrated the powerful role that faith-based communities can have.
* This report was co-authored by Barry Cytron and Marty Stortz