Many Stories

Homelessness in Our Backyard

by | May 24, 2022

Homelessness in our backyard
By Loretta B. Harding/Contributing Writer

White Bear Press
May 11, 2022

What can people do to help the homeless that live in the White Bear Lake community?

Be a mentor, show respect and connect with people. Volunteer at a shelter, food shelf or furniture bank. Contact legislators to change systems that cause affordable housing shortages. Research homelessness, attend seminars about homelessness and tell others what you’ve learned.

Many Faces of the White Bear Lake Area recently conducted a learning session on homelessness at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi.

Many Faces is a consortium of 19 community organizations, such as the Rotary Club of White Bear Lake, the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce, area public school districts and faith-based institutions. It was formed in 2018 to offer the community opportunities to learn about the many groups of people who have inhabited this area during its long history.

Carlos Gantchoff, executive director of St. Andrew’s Community Resource Center, facilitated the seminar and offered a PowerPoint presentation about the number of homeless people in the greater White Bear Lake community.

One of the many causes of persistent homelessness is a greater demand for affordable housing relative to supply. In the last 30 years, the number of households in Mahtomedi increased by 67%, from 1,891 households in 1992 to 3,156 households in 2022.

At the same time, the number of affordable rental units in Mahtomedi increased by fewer than 100 for those 1,265 extra households.

The percentage of cost-burdened renters in Mahtomedi increased from 26% in 1992 to 64% in 2022.  A cost-burdened renter is one who spends more than 30% of their income on housing. That is income that cannot be spent on food, clothing, child care, transportation, health care or education.

According to the 2022 Fair Market Rent data presented by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, rental units in Washington County are more expensive than 95% of the national average. Put another way, only 5% of the country is more expensive to rent in than Washington County.

A person working full time at minimum wage would need to pay a rent of only $780 to avoid being cost-burdened by housing. This type of housing option doesn’t exist in Washington County, Grantchoff said, because the average rent in the county is $1,300. An average affordable housing two-bedroom unit starts at $1,200.

In Minnesota, the poverty line for an individual is $12,784, Gantchoff said. For a family of two adults and two children it is $25,926, according to the 2019 threshold listed by the U.S. Census Bureau. Using the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the average annual income for a full-time employee working for minimum wage is $15,000.

The housing problem is not the fault of landlords, Grantchoff said. “The landlords made the investment and they’re trying to survive the banks and a lot of other things,” he said. But due to the pendulum swing away from the housing moratorium on evictions, landlords are now asking for up to four times the amount of money in rent to recoup their losses during the pandemic. A deposit of roughly $5,000 is now necessary to get a place to live, he said. After the pandemic, rent has increased by 14%, but wages have increased by only 1%.

Wilder Research reports that there are more than 10,000 homeless people in the state today, Grantchoff said. Research also shows that 54% of poor children call the suburbs home, as well as 52% of medium- to low-income families.

The majority of us are one tragedy away from being homeless, whether through divorce, death, loss, abuse or any number of events, he said.

Gantchoff described what it was like to have a home, compared with not having a home. People with a home have a place for all their belongings, a place to park their car, an address to receive regular mail and a paycheck, a place to be sick, a kitchen in which to store and make food, an address to put on their resume during a job search, a place for school bus to pick up kids regularly, social connections and better sleep, he said.

Lisa M., currently a resident at the St. Andrew’s Family Shelter in Hugo, described what it is like not to have a home and the spiraling difficulties that result. She said that although she likes to be at the shelter, she’s in constant discomfort even when everyone tries to make her comfortable. “My belongings are in three different places — in my car, on me and in storage where I was before.” She said her car is her safe place. “But it (stinks) with gas being very expensive now.”

Having a vehicle is paramount in the life of a homeless family. It provides transportation to places the bus doesn’t go, such as a job or the shelter. It can be the house, the heater and the dresser for clothing. But here comes a new worry — high gas prices.

“Everything would be fine if I didn’t have a kid, too,” Lisa said. “Otherwise, I think I could maybe do this (homelessness).” She said that it’s exhausting and overwhelming all day long to worry about child care and school while she is at work, finding enough food and being warm enough in Minnesota winters, to name just a few worries and challenges. “I miss being able to just be,” she said.

Homelessness is fear and insecurity, wondering every minute about every facet of staying alive — how to eat, to stay warm, to stay safe, to keep the children in school and on and on, Gantchoff said.

All these worries lead to stress and resulting health issues. But there is no extra money to pay for a visit to the doctor. Homeless people use emergency rooms because they don’t have insurance or the $100 co-pay. The average $3,700 emergency room bill is borne by the taxpayer.

As we think about how we all pay a price for homelessness, remember that all it takes is one life-changing tragedy for anyone to land in the same boat, said Rachael Moreno, community advocate for St. Andrew’s Community Resource Center.

By learning about homelessness in our community or becoming active to help relieve the burden of homelessness, “you’ll never move a mountain,” Moreno said. “But you might move a pail of dirt. And  if we all move our pails of dirt …”

For a link to the original story, visit https://www.presspubs.com/white_bear/news/homelessness-in-our-backyard/article_e70792c2-d147-11ec-8090-0b87f6f2053d.html. Loretta Harding is a contributing writer for Press Publications. She can be reached at news@presspubs.com or 651-407-1200. 

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