Smart strategies are reducing homelessness among Minnesota families
Happenstance and a stronger economy aren’t enough.
Homelessness is a crippling condition for anyone who experiences it. But for children, being without an every-night place of one’s own is particularly damaging — physically, psychologically and intellectually. That’s why the headline from the latest annual count of Minnesota’s homeless population — a 17 percent year-over-year decline in the number of homeless families with children — deserves more than passing notice.
For the first time since 2010, the number of homeless people in families with children dropped in the annual point-in-time count conducted under the direction of the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness. It went from 4,725 in January 2014 to 3,912 in 2015.
One might chalk up that change to an improving economy — until one looks at the rest of the report. Overall homelessness was down 10 percent, the biggest such drop since the count began in 2007. But a 6 percent increase was seen in the number of “unsheltered” homeless living outdoors, in cars or in structures never intended for human habitation. That’s related to another wrong-direction statistic — a 27 percent increase in the number of people deemed chronically homeless, those without a permanent residence for at least one year or four or more occasions in the last three years.
The only other bright spot in the point-in-time count is among veterans — and that is likely not a coincidence. For nearly a decade, state housing policymakers and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs have collaborated to identify veterans without permanent housing and follow up with support that gets them off the street. As a result, homelessness among veterans in Minnesota has been cut in half since 2010 and is on its way to eradication.
That decline did not happen by accident or because the economy strengthened. Neither did the improvement among homeless families with kids. They, too, have been the targets of newly coordinated efforts among providers of services — particularly in Hennepin County, which accounted for the lion’s share of the decline in the statewide count.
Since late 2013, a Hennepin County strategy called the Stable Families Initiative has sought out the 25 percent of families in homeless shelters who have come for aid more than once in the past two years. They were contacted and offered supportive services tailored to their circumstances — a mix of financial subsidies, early childhood care and education, employment counseling, and intensive case management.
The result: 30 percent fewer families occupied homeless shelters in Hennepin County last month than one year ago. That’s a change large enough to win praise from federal officials, reported Cathy ten Broeke, state director of efforts to prevent and end homelessness. When national numbers come out in a few months, she expects Minnesota’s decrease in family homelessness to be among the nation’s most significant, and Hennepin County’s approach to be touted as a model. That will be gratifying — especially because it means more Minnesota children have the benefit of sleeping each night in a place they know as home.
St. Cloud Times, July 4
Sex offender treatment program needs changes
Federal Judge Donovan Frank recently handed down an opinion on a lawsuit challenging the legality of Minnesota’s indefinite confinement of sex offenders after they finish their prison sentences.
The judge determined the program to be unconstitutional. But he didn’t order the release of any of the more than 700 residents of the Moose Lake or St. Peter “treatment facilities.” He didn’t shut down the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
He did call for a long list of Minnesota lawmakers, including the governor and the leaders of the House and Senate, to meet Aug. 10 to discuss possible changes to the program. The program has released only two residents back into the communities with tough restrictions.
Sadly, the judge’s ruling was met with harsh rebukes and denials from Minnesota officials, most noticeably Gov. Mark Dayton, who said the judge was wrong. In his opinion, the Minnesota law was constitutional. He said he didn’t see any need for change in the state program.
His remarks were echoed by other state officials and lawmakers.
These reactions are tragic and possibly dangerous.
They are tragic because when one group of individuals is denied their constitutional rights, all people have their constitutional rights denied.
They are dangerous because if state lawmakers don’t make recommended changes, the judge may order the program shut down and all its residents released.
There is no doubt there are many individuals who need to be confined because of their high risk of re-offending. They are dangerous people who pose a clear and present danger. But there needs to be continual evaluation of the residents’ status by professionals with the right to appeal.
To ignore the ruling of a federal judge isn’t a good course of action.
Lawmakers need to look to other states’ similar treatment programs to find ways to safely send offenders back into community-based programs with careful monitoring.
Cost also is an issue. Taxpayers spent $120,000 a year per resident at Moose Lake and St. Peter. If some well-designed and effective changes can be made to move some residents into community-based programs, it may save taxpayer money.
Here are some suggested changes from Judge Frank’s ruling that deserve consideration:
— Requiring risk and phase placement re-evaluation, with all deliberate speed, of all current patients, starting with the elderly, individuals with substantive physical or intellectual disabilities, and juveniles;
— Requiring periodic, independent risk assessments to determine whether the clients still satisfy the civil commitment requirements and whether the treatment phase placement is proper;
— Requiring and creating a variety of alternate less-restrictive facilities;
— Revising the discharge process, including the possibility of using a specialized sex offender court with authority to request information, order transfer, provisional discharge, or discharge, and order appropriate conditions and supports for individuals transitioning to the community;
— Requiring the MSOP to promptly file petitions for any person the MSOP believes does not meet the criteria for civil commitment upon arrival, may no longer meet the criteria for civil commitment, or should be transferred to an alternative facility, including for individuals that cannot be well served at the MSOP (for example, due to an individual’s physical or intellectual disability);
— Requiring the MSOP to proactively and continuously develop and adjust specific treatment and discharge plans, no matter which phase a person is in;
— Requiring the MSOP to provide annual notice to all clients of the right to petition and provide assistance with the petitioning process dependent upon the client’s needs;
— Requiring the state to have the burden to prove that the committed individuals meet statutory and constitutional standards for continued commitment and placement;
— Requiring changes to the civil commitment process to correct systemic problems and to ensure that only those who need further inpatient treatment and supervision for a sexual disorder and pose a danger to the public are civilly committed, taking into account an individual’s age, adult convictions, severity of adult convictions, and physical or intellectual disability;
— Requiring the provision of qualified defense counsel and professional experts to all petitioners;
— Requiring ongoing external review and evaluation by experts to recommend changes to the MSOP treatment program processes, including an overview of the structure of the treatment program and phase progression processes;
— Requiring a plan for educating the public on civil commitment, civil commitment alternative facilities, provisional discharge conditions, and risk of re-offense data, among other things, and requiring funding for such education; and
— Appointing a Special Master to monitor compliance with all of the remedies.
Lawmakers must show some political will and courage and adopt some of these changes. But with the entire Legislature up for re-election in 2016, who will want to be labeled as soft on sex offenders?
A better question for voters: Who wants to vote for a lawmaker who didn’t address a problem that has been an urgent matter for more than 16 months? That’s how long ago Frank first signaled that he thought the indefinite confinement of sex offenders violated the Constitution.
A bill that would have made changes to the program passed the Senate in 2013, but its companion bill did not pass the House. Since then, there has been no substantial progress in the Legislature.
Perhaps legislators just need to change the laws to reflect their apparent belief that certain convicted sex offenders deserve indefinite incarceration without the possibility of parole.
Realistically, that’s what the current program amounts to.
Mesabi Daily News, July 4
Extremists trying to change rules
The environmental extremists opposing the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt just keep trying to move the goal posts.
They obviously don’t like losing in a fair contest. If they had the ball in this game they would pick it up and go home.
Non-ferrous mining opponents have aired a television ad that urges DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to intercede on their behalf in the Environmental Impact Statement process that is underway by co-lead agencies of the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service. Those are some pretty heavy hitters for environmental assessment and analysis of a project.
The opponents’ ad closely followed a DNR finding last week that the PolyMet project would not significantly impact water quality.
So, that said, time for the extremists to try to change the rules of the game.
But Gov. Mark Dayton has been steadfast in his position of not taking a position on the issue until a final PolyMet EIS is complete.
The governor’s non-view yet on the issue has not always been well received by supporters of the project, including the Mesabi Daily News on our editorial pages.
There are a lot of jobs and economic development at stake with the PolyMet venture for the Iron Range, which consistently and for a long time has had a higher jobless rate than the rest of the state. And the recent mining layoffs of more than 1,000 Steelworkers only add to those woes.
But the governor has firmly said no personal opinion nor position from the governor’s office until the EIS document is done.
And now, to the governor’s credit, environmental extremists are hearing the same message.
“Until the final Environmental Impact Statement has been completed, received public comments, and finally issued later this year, the governor is remaining neutral and undecided about the proposed PolyMet project,” said Matt Swenson, the governor’s spokesman.
The Minnesota environmental review process is more than fair, diligent and extremely thorough. And it is working for all Minnesotans when it comes to the PolyMet project.
Except, of course, for the environmental extremists who would only be happy with no non-ferrous mining, and really, for many of them, no mining at all.