Olmsted County receiving $795,000 to combat family homelessness

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(ABC 6 News) – Part of a five year grant, Olmsted County is receiving $795,000 in state funding for 2023.

Olmsted County says it is receiving the money due to the number of kids experiencing homelessness reported by school districts.

While the plan for the funds is tentative at this point, the county wants to use some of this money towards a county emergency assistance program.

“A lot of these families wouldn’t become homeless if they had access to emergency money,” said Mark Thein, the board chair of Olmsted County Housing & Redevelopment Authority.

Thein says while emergency assistance money is critical, there simply is not enough.

This year, Olmsted County received $376,000 for emergency assistance, but those funds were spent before the end of June.

Between May and July this summer, 66 families contacted the county for assistance and threats of being evicted.

Because of this, the county plans to spend $200,000 of the grant towards its Emergency Assistance (EA) program administered by the Family Support and Assistance Department. According to Olmsted County, EA provides families with a one-time emergency funding in times of crisis. These funds are predicted to save 133 families from facing eviction next year.

“If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and your car broke down, or you broke your leg and you cant show up for work, now you can’t pay your rent and then your homeless,” explained Thein.

The trickle effect isn’t just felt inside the family. Oftentimes, school officials are the first to notice the problem.

“The teachers might hear from the families that they’re struggling, or kids themselves might say something in passing that the teachers catch on to,” said Mary O’Neill, the program manager for the Olmsted County Housing Stability Team.

Part of the $795,000 grant, the county is planning to allocate $240,000 towards hiring two social workers that will work with schools.

“A student that doesn’t have a roof over his or her head isn’t gonna perform well in school,” said Thein. “They’re gonna be worrying where they’re going to sleep that night. They’re not gonna have time to do their work ,and odds are that they aren’t even going to show up for school because it’s just survival mode.”

Typically, Rochester Public Schools report around 400 kids per year that are in unstable housing or are homeless altogether. Olmsted County says based on these homeless numbers, the grant could change year to year.

“Our housing stability team has a hard time connecting to families,” explained O’Neill. “We don’t have that natural space in which we can connect to families, so having these two social workers embedded in the schools will significantly help that connection.”

An additional $130,000 of the grant will go towards providing temporary rental assistance for struggling families. The county intends to have any participant pay 30% of their income in rent, while the funding would accommodate the rest of the rent. It predicts this type of assistance would support 15 families.

Olmsted County also plans to acquire a property to develop into an emergency family shelter using the HRA levy. It would then use $120,000 of the state funding to partner with an organization that would serve as the facility operator.

This state grant money will be available in 2023.