Stable Families pilot project awarded $45,000

By Staff Blogger LaDonna Seely

This article was written by Lisa Fleming with the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department and originally appeared in the LOOP, a Hennepin County newsletter. An HSPHD pilot project to keep families in stable housing has the potential to make “Better Lives, Stronger Communities” not only here but across the country – and it’s been awarded $45,000 from a national think tank.

The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity presented the check, and its Ideas for Action Award to the Stable Families pilot. Eligibility and Work Services and the Office to End Homelessness are working on the pilot in partnership with the University of Minnesota, which will evaluate the results.

About 1,500 families spend some time in shelter each year in Hennepin County. Most are able to leave within a month, but a growing number are in shelter for months and return there after leaving. The Stable Families pilot is testing several different kinds of services that may increase the chances of a family staying housed.

The award money will be used for training and education for clients to help them maintain livable-wage jobs. With a rental vacancy rate of just 2.5 percent in Minneapolis, rents are at levels many people can’t afford.

“Most families in shelter are on public assistance, and that $400 or $600 a month doesn’t come close to paying even for rent, let alone anything else. Employment has to be part of the conversation,” says project manager Heidi Boyd.

Adults on MFIP already work with employment service providers. The Stable Families pilot adds more intensive support for things like assessing skills, job searches and interviewing. Goodwill-Easter Seals works with the project to provide employment support to clients and their employers.

“Often these family members may not have the best resumes, so Goodwill-Easter Seals creates good relationships with employers, letting them have confidence” that any work issues, such as communication or transportation, can be solved, Boyd says.

Training and education are also important in getting people into jobs with potential for advancement. More than 40 percent of parents in shelter are 25 or younger.

“Some people are currently employed, but in minimum-wage jobs that don’t pay enough for rent,” Boyd says. “We’re working with the state Department of Employment and Economic Development to identify careers that are trending now and to match them with training programs that are effective.”

The pilot project will last two years, during which the results for clients using the Stable Families program will be compared by the University of Minnesota to those receiving traditional services. That research component was important to receiving the award because the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is seeking programs that can be replicated in other places.

“One of the great things about this is that Hennepin County doesn’t have to figure this out on its own,” Boyd says. “This is a partnership, with the county, the philanthropic community, the U of M, community agencies – these people all are coming together with a common goal.”