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Cabinet Leads Workshop to Discuss Barriers & Solutions in Housing

In April, the Young Women’s Cabinet hosted a workshop at YWCA St. Paul to invite community conversation about housing in Minnesota. Each member of the Governor-appointed Cabinet participates in a focus area to deepen their leadership and change systems so all young people can thrive. The Cabinet’s Community Engagement track chose the topic of housing as a critical issue facing our state. In the Blueprint for Action that grounds the work of the Cabinet, expanding housing options is a recommendation to increase safety and prevent violence for young women and gender-expansive people.

In late 2023, Minneapolis declared unsheltered homelessness a public health emergency. Cabinet members decided to learn more about housing and find new ways to bring this topic and solutions to light. From the 2024 Status of Women & Girls+ in Minnesota, we know that women’s economic vulnerability increases over a lifetime, which can lead to housing insecurity, debt, poverty, reduced access to health care in old age. Economic barriers for women of color and Black, Indigenous, and women of color reflect Minnesota’s deep racial inequities.

In the workshop, led by Cabinet members Sita Baker and Amy Ruiz Plaza, we learned more about the topic, the research, and the challenges facing people with housing insecurity. Sita shared an Indigenous perspective that everyone who lives here has a connection to the land as a home. She explained that the term “houselessness” is part of a more humanitarian approach to the current crisis in housing, which includes sweeps of urban encampments, lack of affordable housing, and the risks to safety and health that come with housing instability.

The Cabinet led discussions that addressed mental health, employment, available services, limitations including long waitlists, and the intersecting systems that often create obstacles for unhoused individuals and families to find safe and affordable housing. Did you know that 47% of houseless people in Minnesota are families with children? Sixty-four percent are people of color. Youth represent 4 out of every 10 houseless people, and mothers with children are far more likely to be in shelters than men with children. Nearly half of Minnesota spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, according to the Minnesota Homeless Study by Wilder Research.

With support from James Lewis, housing and services division director at The Link, a WFM grantee-partner, the group participated in a scenario exercise to help attendees better understand the challenges facing individuals and families looking for affordable housing. Together, we explored solutions, and learned how to better support community members experiencing houselessness.

James from The Link shared an inspiring call to action for the group to bring back to their communities. Funding community partners working directly with people most affected is always helpful, he said. Funding helps keep the lights on, but also allows for living wages and investments in staff doing work that is physically and emotionally taxing. It’s important to keep showing up to share your knowledge and experience. Find the ways that you are comfortable giving back, he said, and don’t give up, don’t wait, and make it happen.

He encouraged attendees to connect to people who don’t always agree with your point of view. Know your community, he said, and engage with your peers. Get connected to nonprofits doing the work and wrap your arms around volunteers. Challenge stereotypes and common assumptions about people experiencing houselessness. Our communities should be judged by how we help those most in need.

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