As of the beginning of the year, Jennifer Romero had 90 households on a list. The list represented 90 individuals or families in Carver and Scott counties who need housing.
It could be worse. In the past year, assessments had been completed on 220 households “homeless enough” to qualify for assistance, said Romero, Carver County Health and Human Services housing coordinator.
It’s an “everyday goal” of Romero to see that list shortened.
Some of these individuals are hopping from couch to couch seeking shelter from those who offer a place to stay, Romero said. Some live in their cars until they can afford a room at a hotel for a few days, before heading back to their car. Some may live in homes, but the floor is caving in or mold fills the air, she said.
“It’s hard for people to imagine that (homelessness) exists out here,” Romero said. “It does.”
These are the suburbs’ hidden homeless. A Saturday forum will address the issue of homelessness in Carver and Scott counties.
“It’s a problem that’s invisible,” said Robert Kim, chair of the Chaska Human Rights Commission. “But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist,” he added.
The Chaska Human Rights Commission is one of the groups presenting “Homeless in My Hometown: A OneCommunity Conversation,” from 2-4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at the Chaska Community Center.
Panelists and moderators represent a majority of service providers in Carver and Scott counties that work with homeless, Kim said.
The panel includes the Community Action Partnership of Carver, Scott and Dakota Counties (CAP Agency). “One of the big things that we’ll focus on is dispelling many of the myths around people that are homeless and create some awareness locally about issues of homeless in our communities,” said Eric Gentry, CAP Agency director of housing.
“It’s not necessarily people on the side of the street asking for money,” Gentry said. “We term them the hidden homeless.”
Over the past few years, local groups have been battling homelessness on several fronts.
In 2010, Carver and Scott counties began a 10-year plan to prevent homelessness called “Heading Home Scott-Carver.”
Romero, who also serves as chair of Heading Home, will provide a five-year update at the forum on the group’s initiatives.
One of Heading Home’s key successes has been coordinating local agencies to designate entry points for homeless assistance.
One of those groups is the nonprofit Launch Ministry, which serves young adults. Within a year of its 2014 opening, the Launch Ministry Homeless Youth Drop-in Center in Chaska assisted 87 individuals.
Other groups have also begun offering assistance in the area. The Bridge for Youth Southwest, for youth in crisis, ages 10-17, recently opened in Chanhassen. And the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative has worked with several local churches to provide temporary homeless shelters. Those groups will all discuss their work as part of the “Homeless in My Hometown” forum.
One of the main problems, officials said, is the lack of affordable housing. “Setting up systems where there’s more affordable housing for folks to address issues of homelessness longer term is critical,” Gentry said.
Also being discussed is a shelter to temporarily house the homeless while they await permanent housing, Romero said.
“Homelessness is a multifaceted issue,” Gentry said.