Guest column: Fighting homelessness pays off

Barbara Dacy

Barbara Dacy

The Gazette and reporter Avery Cropp should be commended for their excellent work on the recent three-part series “Homelessness on the Home Front.” Their efforts bring attention to the importance of having a home, something all too often taken for granted. The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority helps communities provide housing opportunities for residents at a range of life stages and income levels.

Communities that think creatively and invest in fighting homelessness almost always generate economic impact far beyond the money we spend. Coordinating services and access to care is one such approach. Another involves ensuring the availability of affordable housing across the entire cycle of life. That provides housing stability and maintains community vitality. Too many people, whether working families or our seniors, are one paycheck or one illness away from not being able to make a rent payment or a mortgage payment.

The HRA fosters partnerships to provide as many homes as possible. For example, private developers and property owners across the county have reserved a small number of units in their developments for families and seniors needing a stable home. They in turn partner with local nonprofits to provide supportive services. We’ve created 19 homes through these partnerships in addition to the more than 1,000 units of affordable housing that we manage.

In addition, the HRA has worked with Canvas Health to administer the Bridges program, providing individuals and families who are homeless or affected by mental illness with the home and care they need. We also teamed up with a variety of community agencies on the Heading Home Washington plan that fights homelessness by better aligning and leveraging private and public resources. We’re constantly seeking these sorts of opportunities to collaborate throughout Washington County.

Jobs are another key component to creating housing stability and fending off homelessness, and companies are reluctant to locate where workers can’t afford to live. Washington County is hit on both fronts. We’re home to some of the highest housing costs in the metro area, and our jobs are, on average, the lowest paying in the area. We must make it easier for residents to live closer to their jobs and afford their housing costs when they choose to do so. Keeping workers in our communities allows them to spend their paychecks at our businesses. That creates additional jobs and fuels our local economy. Everyone wins.

Whatever the approach, we have to be willing to think outside the box. How can we provide quality, affordable housing and effective services that strengthen communities while minimizing the long-term impact to taxpayers? We know what we gain by fighting homelessness. Kids do better in school. Job attendance and performance go up. And we know the long-term gains save us more than the short-term cost.

Finally, for those who have homes but struggle with their mortgage, we can help. The Washington County HRA provides award-winning assistance programs that help homeowners work with their lenders. Last year, more than 60 percent of those who sought our help were able to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. The services we provide are free and confidential. For information on this or any of our programs, call us at 651-458-0936 or go to wchra.com. Our counselors are happy to help.

We salute all the individuals and organizations working to end homelessness here in Washington County. Everyone deserves the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have a safe and decent place to call home.

Barbara Dacy is the executive director of the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the senior vice president of Minnesota NAHRO, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

 

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