No matter where affordable, transitional or emergency housing is proposed, you can pretty much bet that there’ll be opposition. It’s a NIMBY (Not in my back yard) mentality.
Maybe it’s a natural reaction. But it stinks.
Not taking care of our neighbors in pain or struggles goes against everything most of us were taught. Call it the Common Good or the Golden Rule. Call it common sense or a kindhearted soul. Call it whatever you want. But not wanting safe and affordable housing for all goes against every core principle I have.
For full disclosure: I previously served as president of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. I once served as the Minnesota team leader for a “Pathways from Poverty” delegation that attended a national conference in Collinsville, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. And I’ve been a speaker at a National Low Income Housing Coalition national convention in Washington, D.C.
That pretty much tells you how I feel about the need to provide emergency housing. It’s needed. And it’s been desperately needed throughout much of rural Minnesota. There’s a few shelters in regional centers like Mankato, but most counties have little to no options.
The word NIMBYism comes to mind now because of a recent announcement by Partners for Affordable Housing (PAH) and the Greater Mankato Area United Way that they’ve teamed up to accept an anonymous donation to convert the St. Peter Motel into a transitional housing and emergency shelter facility.
It’s expected to remain a hotel until $50,000 or so is raised. It’s needed to operate it as a “bare-bones” shelter, according to PAH Executive Director Jen Theneman. (Another disclosure: I’m a past PAH board member).
As expected, there was plenty of good, plenty of bad comments on social media after the news story hit. Some comments were darn right nasty, some filled with plenty of ignorance. Yup, these can be touchy issues. But it’s important to look at the need, the gaps in affordable housing, and the price to society when such needs go unfulfilled.
And as far as those worries about deteriorating home values near shelters or increased crime? Simply not so.
Part of that reason is because most regional shelters primarily house single-parent families and children. Sadly, they’ve often been forced out of their permanent housing because of domestic abuse. They’re looking for a way out of danger and into safe and affordable housing.
That’s the type of transitional housing being promoted for the St. Peter Motel. Its most recent owners, who sold the property to be donated for such a use, have often been assisting in such situations over the years. It’s a great need in rural Minnesota, where many homeless are couch-hopping or crashing with friends or relatives until some other means of housing can be secured. Or worse, going back to a unsafe household.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty also says a growing number of people are becoming homeless or in need of shelter because they can’t afford rent. There’s a lack of affordable housing, and what’s being called affordable has climbed drastically. It’ll get worse before it gets better.
According to the law center, one-eighth of the nation’s supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001. The U.S. needs an estimated 7 million more affordable rental units; today, millions are paying more than half their income on rent.
But there are two other key facts in the growing number of homeless people and people of low-income status needing emergency shelter or transitional housing. Over 57,000 veterans are estimated to be homeless on any given night. Sixty percent of them are in shelters; the rest unsheltered.
The other key factor is that over 5 million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008; that’s one in every 10 homes with a mortgage. And that’s forced millions into that search for affordable rental units.
But there’s hope. And it comes in the goodness of community and spirituality. New Ulm two years ago opened its first-ever shelter, the NUMAS House, spearheaded by First United Methodist Church after a New Ulm Public Schools survey found dozens of children in the district without permanent housing.
In Waseca, plans are underway for the county’s first-ever transitional housing and emergency shelter. The former Sacred Heart Catholic Church convent will be converted, with women and children in need to have access to shelter and assistance.
Now, add St. Peter to the list. These are all good projects from people doing what we grew up being taught to do.