An Interview with Trisha Kauffman

On March 18, 1997, Trisha Kauffman became the second Executive Director of East Metro Women’s Council, now Solid Ground. In honor of her 24th Anniversary, we sat down with Trisha to learn more about her work and dedication to advancing Solid Ground’s mission to prevent and end homelessness for families with children in the communities we serve through housing, resources, and opportunity.

How did you learn about Solid Ground and what attracted you to the position?

My husband got a new job in Minneapolis and the two of us moved here from Ohio in December 1996.  I had been working for a domestic violence services organization and was looking for a job I loved as much as that one. Luckily I found Solid Ground! (then called East Metro Women’s Council). Many of the families we helped at the shelter were forced to return to unsafe situations because they didn’t have many housing options, and I was thrilled to be a part of the solution at Solid Ground.  I also loved that we work more holistically with families and for a longer period of time.

What have you learned about families experiencing homelessness over the past 24 years?

Although there are many shared experiences and similarities among the families we serve, every family has their own story and their own journey. I’ve also learned, often the hard way, that generational poverty is toxic. The more that children are exposed to homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse and other challenges, the harder it is for them to escape that world. All of us “live what we know”. But I’ve also learned that breaking the cycle is possible – and that being surrounded by caring, supportive people can make all the difference.

When you look back on the past 24 years, of what are you most proud?

I wouldn’t even know where to begin!  I think I’m most proud of the impact we’ve had on the families and communities we’ve served, knowing that we’ve really made a difference in so many lives. We’ve won some great accolades – a 2001 Live Your Best Life Award, the 2011 statewide MCN Award of Excellence, and most recently, a 2020 grant from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund. But meeting Oprah Winfrey to accept our Live Your Best Life Award has got to be near the top of the list!

As you look toward the future, what gives you the most hope?

As difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, I think it’s taught us all some powerful lessons, including the importance of stable housing to a person’s health and welfare, as well as the importance of community. It’s opened our eyes to the seemingly intractable racial and income disparities that exist in our society and how they have very real, and very dire, consequences. We’ve learned that we can overcome great obstacles when we put our minds (and resources) to it. Hopefully we will come out the other side as better people, and as a better nation, and devote those same passions and resources to ending poverty and homelessness.

What’s the greatest challenge for families experiencing homelessness?  How is Solid Ground part of the solution?

The severe lack of affordable housing is definitely the greatest challenge faced by families. Decent, safe, affordable housing is a basic need for all, but providing it to very low income households is such a complex issue. The solution involves government at all levels, private and nonprofit developers, and many others, including each and every one of us as members of a community who have the power to come together – either for or against – housing developments proposed in our neighborhoods. Solid Ground is a part of the solution by advocating for affordable housing development, brokering relationships with landlords who might otherwise deny families and providing rental assistance to help make the housing affordable until families can afford it on their own.  We’re also looking to build or buy affordable housing in the communities we serve so that we can expand our impact.