Heading home

The Office to End Homelessness closes in on the end of a 10-year plan

There's no place like home

Tiffany Sherrod’s plans for her future and that of her toddler daughter, Na’Tyra Gordon, include a nice, two-bedroom place that has enough room for both of them to spread out and grow — something that feels like home.

Already, the transitional Minneapolis apartment where they live is a far cry from the life of couch-hopping and shelters she knew before Na’Tyra was born. It’s convenient to her job, and her neighbors are other young moms and children. But Sherrod and her case worker have their eyes set on something even better.

Helping to support stable families

Sherrod, 23, is a participant in the Young Parent Pilot, an offshoot of the Hennepin County Stable Families Initiative. The initiative works toward the goal of making homelessness rare, short and non-recurring by offering a suite of services to families who are either repeat users of the emergency shelter system, or who are at risk of long-term homelessness.

Over about two years, the Stable Families Initiative has helped to reduce family shelter use overall, and set a course to reduce the number of families returning to shelter once they are established in housing.

In 2013, Hennepin County observed that 25 percent of families in emergency shelter had been there before, twice the number from five years earlier. Preventing a return to shelter could have saved the community $1.5 million in shelter costs per year and reduced the trauma to families that homelessness causes.

Families participating in the initiative have higher barriers to stability, and their children have lived in unstable situations for several years. The program aims to support families beyond traditional services, which have not previously been enough to prevent a return to homelessness.

Finding solutions to homelessness

The Stable Families Initiative has three main components:

  • Prevention: Hennepin County’s Office to End Homelessness reaches out to families who have used shelter in the past, offering services to help them stay in their homes. The prevention program helps keep most families out of shelter.
  • Coordinated services: Families that return to emergency shelter are offered parent supports and enhanced employment services to help them to be independent. A dedicated team helps them navigate county and community resources.
  • Young Parent Pilot: In addition to the other resources, young parents receive intensive case management, early childhood services and a two-year rent subsidy.

The program still is in early stages, but Hennepin County families already are seeing good results. Shelter use is subject to fluctuations, but the trend is toward a much lower average number of families in shelter, and much lower numbers during peak use periods.

"The Stable Families Initiative demonstrates how important it is to create and try out solutions to homelessness,” said Mikkel Beckmen, director of the Office to End Homelessness. “We are seeing success as we work to incorporate local data and national best practices into the work we do every day.”

You can learn more about the county's efforts in the Office to End Homelessness' annual update (PDF).

Finding home

Tiffany Sherrod is working toward her goal to move from transitional housing to a permanent place by spring. She is already decorating her daughter’s room in her daydreams.

The long-term planning she is doing with her caseworker is a huge improvement over the day-to-day uncertainty she once experienced.

“At this time four years ago I wouldn’t know where home was,” she said. “Home is a place where you can sleep at night without worrying about where you’re going to sleep the next night. … A place where you can be safe and don’t have to worry about nothing.”