It is estimated that on any given night, approximately 21,000 people in Minnesota are homeless or precariously housed—most of whom are children. Studies show that the longer a person is homeless, the more difficult the path back to stability—the greater the toll taken on their physical and mental health, the more their children struggle to adapt to new schools and the stigma of homelessness, and the more relationships begin to disintegrate under the stress of the situation.
Critical barriers to homeless people accessing shelter, housing support, and services include the widely varying strategies, policies and residency requirements across the seven-county metro area. The Twin Cities metro area contains 7 counties, over 100 cities, and dozens of shelter and service providers. Clearly if counties, cities and service providers coordinate to provide streamlined services and create shelter and housing where it most needed, the time and trauma of homelessness can be significantly decreased. MESH believes that by establishing productive working relationships and long-term commitments to coordination, both public policy and funding can be leveraged for more effective and efficient regional solutions to homelessness.
In May of 2000 a formerly homeless man, Greg Horan, convened the first meeting of Metro-wide Engagement for Shelter & Housing (MESH). Greg had experienced firsthand the labyrinthine difficulty in navigating shelter and service policies from one county to the next. For a person facing homelessness, county boundaries are abstract and meaningless. People who are homeless often move in and out of counties, many perhaps working in one county and seeking shelter in another. County residency rules, on the other hand, often prohibit services and shelter beds based solely on an individual’s county of origin. As co-chair of the St. Paul Coalition for the Homeless and a board member of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, Mr. Horan recognized that in order to address the systemic causes of homelessness, dialogue and planning across jurisdictional lines would need to become a primary priority.
MESH’s mission is to form partnerships to build metro-wide solutions that will end homelessness and increase affordable housing choices.
Metro-wide Engagement on Shelter and Housing is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization which brings providers, advocates and county staff together to address the issues of homelessness and housing in the 7-county metro area. By its nature, MESH provides a neutral place for counties to discuss their policies and for providers to give input on how the implementation of such policies affect people experiencing homelessness. Through our collaborative work, MESH seeks to secure adequate and dignified services for people facing homelessness, and to increase and improve affordable and supportive housing in the metro area.
In its short history, MESH has had many great accomplishments. MESH has improved our metro area’s response to homelessness and housing through:
Education & Training
- MESH created a regional tour of shelters and affordable housing developments for policy-makers including a discussion of the continuum of housing from shelter to affordable housing ownership opportunities, creative affordable housing projects, and barriers to creating enough affordable housing to address homelessness.
- MESH provides ongoing trainings for shelter and transitional housing staff on issues such as Mental Illness, and Healthcare Issues of People Experiencing Homelessness, and The Culture of Poverty.
- MESH and the Corporation for Supportive Housing cosponsored a Housing First Conference to introduce the philosophy of Housing First to providers, funders and elected officials as a way to house people who have experienced long term homelessness.
Research & Assessment
- MESH worked with county staff from each of the seven metro counties, Wilder Research Center and the Corporation for Supportive Housing to compile a Regional Needs Assessment and inventory that has provided an overall profile of homelessness in the region. As part of the Regional Needs Assessment, specific recommendations for policy change, coordination of services and production goals for shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing and affordable housing, both rental and homeownership, were identified.
- MESH identified the need for a regional database to collect information on people who are experiencing homelessness as a means of being able to concretely identify the need of shelter, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing in the seven county metro area. It was determined that by collecting information on people experiencing homelessness through current providers, the counties and providers in the metro area would have a better sense of where there are gaps in services. Since that time, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a mandate that all Continuum of Cares (counties receiving HUD long-term housing funding) must use a Homeless Management Information System. MESH has worked with the MN Housing Finance Agency, The MN Department of Children, Families and Learning and the Continuum of Care Committees across the state to implement an HMIS system for all recipients of HUD funding.
Policy Advisory & Advocacy Work
- MESH has provided technical assistance in the predevelopment stages of developing shelter across the metro area. MESH has a shelter and housing specialist on staff who works with providers interested in creating new shelters capacity or replacing existing shelters by providing assistance on site location, reviewing applicable zoning ordinances and attending community meetings.
- MESH obtained a commitment from the Human Service Directors in the seven counties to prioritize their collaborative work on homelessness. This led to an unprecedented cooperative submittal of a proposal for a project of regional significance focusing on people experiencing homelessness.
- MESH facilitated the development of a medical respite program in Hennepin County where medically vulnerable homeless individuals who have been discharged from the hospital can get the medical care they need while they recuperate.
- MESH has provided planning advice and technical assistance for the six metro Continuum of Care groups and the four Family Homeless Prevention Assistance Program Advisory Groups.
- MESH is in a unique position through its relationships and activities to affect change in the way that counties address homelessness and housing. We believe that through our collaborative work the Minneapolis/St Paul metro area might soon be viewed as a national leader, a “best practices” region for addressing homelessness. Ultimately, we believe that from our work, individuals facing homelessness will benefit by a system that will put their needs and interests first.