Throughout the school year in Minneapolis, up to several thousand students don’t have a place to call home. And that instability in their lives has an impact on their physical and mental health as well as their ability to learn.
In fact, research shows that housing instability is a major factor in the state’s stubbornly persistent achievement disparities between white students and students of color. So the city of Minneapolis is wisely addressing the issue with a new initiative to support housing stability for homeless children.
Called Stable Homes, Stable Schools, the pilot program will offer rent subsidies and other social services to the families of about 650 Minneapolis schoolkids during the next three years. The idea is to help families secure and stay in housing near their children’s schools so their education won’t be affected by constantly having to move.
Minneapolis is leading the program and is investing $3.4 million from its general fund. The city’s partners in providing wraparound social services include the school district, Hennepin County, nonprofits and other units of government. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), for example, will administer the program and contribute $1.4 million a year for direct rental subsidies. MPHA staffers will meet with families to determine eligibility and connect them with one-on-one support from a social service provider.
In addition, the Pohlad Family Foundation is investing $500,000 to help keep families in their homes by covering utility bills or other unexpected emergency expenses that could threaten housing stability.
Another benefit of the program is that it may cut school district costs in other areas. The Minneapolis district currently spends $10 million per year on transportation for homeless students. Stable housing also helps the other members of the student’s family. The adults can take better care of their children when a place to stay is secured, and parents and older siblings have a better chance of getting training or employment when they have a permanent address. Housing can be key to addressing many poverty-related problems.
The Minneapolis effort comes at a time when the need is clear — homelessness in the state is at a record high. Wilder Research recently reported that 10,233 people were homeless in Minnesota in 2018, the highest number recorded since the organization began collecting the data 30 years ago. And the Wilder Foundation is working with other nonprofits and the city of St. Paul to provide financial assistance so that low-income families at specific schools can stay in their homes.
In Minneapolis, the Stable Homes, Stable Schools initiative is part of Mayor Jacob Frey’s much-needed effort to increase affordable housing options in the city. “This is simply unacceptable,” he told a Star Tribune news reporter. “We can’t expect our students to learn and succeed in the classroom if they don’t have a room to rest their head at night.”
That reality is confirmed by data. University of Minnesota Prof. Ann Masten was part of a research team that followed more than 26,000 elementary and middle-school Minneapolis students for up to five years. That study found that homelessness disproportionately affects kids of color and that chronic homelessness causes persistent achievement gaps.
On any given day up to 10 percent of the city’s 34,000 students go without a permanent place to stay, according to the city. Stable Homes, Stable Schools holds great promise to reduce that number and create strong home bases for kids and their families.