Guest Column: "We Should Strive to Meet the Basic Needs of All"

Neighbors, Inc. spokesperson Daniel Zhu believes the root causes of homelessness—and homeless individuals themselves—are often misunderstood.

From the perspective of Neighbors, Inc., it seems that the problem of homelessness is larger than many people in the community realize.

A lot of attention is given to metropolitan areas, but the suburbs of the Twin Cities also have a rather large homeless population as well. The problem tends to be less visible in the suburbs because homeless individuals tend to float from one shelter to another or stay with friends. In the suburbs “doubling up,” a situation where many individuals or families stay in the homes of others, is prevalent. These people are not always counted or recognized as homeless, but since they lack permanent or consistent shelter, they are still technically homeless.

Over the years, it seems like homelessness has grown. The poor economy has definitely had an impact on the rate of homelessness in Dakota County. With the unemployment rate so high, many have been unable to pay rent. There have also been cases of parents not being able to assist their adult children because they cannot increase their income. In our area, the rate of teen homelessness is also high. Other issues that seem to be contributing to the homelessness problem is unwelcomed pregnancies that lead to relationship break-ups, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.

Neighbors, Inc. helps those who are homeless in a few different ways. Providing emergency food and clothing is one way that Neighbors consistently helps homeless individuals. Sometimes dishes, utensils, blankets, and gift cards are given too. Neighbors can also provide people with resources they need to find shelter, jobs, and medical attention. Jenny, an Emergency Services Intake Specialist at Neighbors, states that one of the goals is for those who come in for help "to leave with the confidence needed to go on a more navigated path of self-sufficiency ... we just want people to be better off than they were the day before, and keep on moving in a positive direction.” Neighbors really tries to provide as much assistance and resources to those in need as possible.

The reaction the community has to homelessness can also be an issue. Many times individuals are homeless because of mental health concerns or drug addictions, so these people may have a harder time fitting in. They are often misunderstood by others in the community. At other times, homeless individuals may be viewed as “troublemakers” because of their situation. It is important for the community to recognize these problems and to not judge those who may not seem “normal.” As a community, we should strive to meet the basic needs of all, and to make sure everyone feels safe, protected, and comfortable.

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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