Beyond Hiawatha: Need for Affordable Housing is Everywhere

The homeless camps along Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis and Cathedral Hill in St. Paul have brought much attention recently to the issue of homelessness and the need for more shelter and affordable housing in our area.  Some people are moved to bring food and clothing to those in need, or to get involved in other ways to find housing for those living in the camps.  Others may drive on by, or see the camps as a nuisance, or simply as a shame but also a condition that does not impact them or their community directly.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Not everyone who is experiencing homelessness is living in a camp.  Families are living in their vehicles;  they are living in storage units, abandoned buildings, and ice houses.  People are living in places not fit for human habitation because they simply cannot afford housing and there isn’t enough housing at affordable rents/prices to go around.  They can’t afford it in Minneapolis; they can’t afford it in St. Paul; they can’t afford it in the suburbs and they can’t afford it in rural Minnesota.  The Hiawatha camp only puts a more visible face to the problem.

There are two main things that can be done to address the lack of affordable housing.  One is to increase incomes so that people can afford the housing that is available in the community.  The other is to create more housing that is available to individuals and families with lower incomes.  Both approaches are highly complex and both require time to affect change.

So, what can we do today to make a difference?  We can support the creation of more affordable housing in our own communities.  We can show up at planning commission and city council meetings in support of multifamily developments, instead of against them, or instead of just staying home because we don’t think the issue impacts us.  We can accept that change happens, and even if we don’t really want the view outside our kitchen window to change, we can accept that change is inevitable, and we would rather see new housing for families being built than new homeless camps cropping up.

I am a resident of Vadnais Heights, and tomorrow night I will attend the City Council meeting, where they are scheduled to vote on a new multifamily development.  For months, many have expressed opposition to the development because they want the land to remain undeveloped, or to have townhomes built instead of apartments.  The opponents worry about increased traffic, or too many kids hanging out at the park down the street (isn’t that what parks are for?).  The proposed development is located on a large piece of land and in proximity to local businesses and the highway.  It’s the right time and the right location for this kind of development.

Ending homelessness is possible, and it begins with each one of us. I encourage you to join me tomorrow night in speaking in favor of affordable housing in our community.  In the coming year we will asking our supporters to join us in advocating for affordable housing and services that help children and parents meet both their needs and their potential.  We will lift up our collective voice and work to make our community a place where all can thrive.

As we enter this season of giving, all of us at Solid Ground want to express our gratitude for the support of all of you who stand with us to make the world a better place.  Together, we can help everyone have a home for the holidays and for every day.

Submitted by Trisha Cummins Kauffman, Solid Ground Executive Director