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Guest Column: The Costs of Homelessness Are High

Homelessness is costly for society, according to Neighbors, Inc. spokesperson Daniel Zhu.

Guest Column: The Costs of Homelessness Are High

It is estimated that on any given night in Dakota County, there are nearly 1,000 people dealing with homelessness or extreme housing instability.

This number may seem staggering to some because the problem isn’t always visible. Homelessness in the suburbs can look very different from the homelessness seen in larger metropolitan areas. In the suburbs, many people who are homeless are doubling up, or temporarily sharing housing with other families. This makes it harder to determine the true number of homeless families and individuals living in Dakota County.

Since 2009, the homeless population has been increasing significantly. At least once a year, the county and participating organizations work together to get an estimate of how many families in Dakota County are homeless, including those who are living in doubled up situations. These counts found that approximately 429 families in 2011 and 485 families in 2012 were homeless. This doesn’t include the large number of families at an extreme risk for becoming homeless in the near-term.

The lack of housing stability tends to intensify the challenges that cause homelessness in the first place, making the challenges more difficult to address. Often times, homelessness is a result of one unfortunate event or situation leading to another. With these things in mind, it is easier and more affordable to prevent the problem of homelessness than it is to cure it. Homelessness can become costly to society, especially in terms of medical care and education. People who are homeless generally lack access to health coverage, so they often turn to the emergency room to get the medical treatment they need. Also, a national study has found that 36 percent of homeless children will repeat a grade in school. This is costly to the school district, and to the children in terms of their development.

Perhaps what is even more costly is how children are negatively impacted by homelessness. Without the structure and security of stable housing, children are at an increased risk of physical and mental health issues, impaired social development, and lower educational attainment. Also, children who experience homelessness are more likely to become homeless as adults.

Recognizing the basic human need for stable housing, and the problems associated with homelessness, community organizations and Dakota County have come together to create a 10-year plan to end homelessness. While this plan has many goals, one its main focuses is on preventing homelessness in the first place.

As part of the coalition in Dakota County to end homelessness, Neighbors, Inc. works to prevent homelessness. Neighbors strives to help people who are at risk for becoming homeless by assisting with preventing utility shut-off and eviction. The other services and resources Neighbors provide can also indirectly help families stay in their homes. Neighbors tries to prevent one misfortune from spiraling out of control and causing other problems.

Editor's Note: Homelessness rates in Dakota County and other suburban communities in Minnesota have risen substantially in the last five years. This letter to the editor is part of a Patch series exploring that trend. Click on the links below to read other articles on the topic.

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