The hidden reality of homelessness

Dedeepya Guthikonda

A person in tattered clothing standing alone on the corner of a busy street downtown with a cardboard sign is not quite an accurate description of the growing issue of homelessness in Minnesota. What society perceives as homelessness is not the reality of the problem.

According to the MN Homeless Statewide Study, on any given night in Minnesota, there are 9,312 people sleeping on the streets. Though this is a 9% decrease from 2012, the number continues to be extremely high. Even more alarming is the fact that over 60% of this population is made up of youth. People Serving People is the region’s largest and most comprehensive homeless shelter located in downtown Minneapolis, and the average age of its guests is 15.

Though the needs of these youth and the homeless population in Minnesota are not being efficiently met, there are several organizations around the state and region that are striving to address these needs and significantly lower the number of homeless people.

One of these organizations is Oasis For Youth, a nonprofit that works with youth that are at risk of homelessness. Hans Dosland is the School Outreach Manager of this organization and works with schools in the suburbs, including Edina High School. When asked about the common causes behind youth homelessness, Dosland says it heavily depends on the parents.

“A lot of the students I work with are in homes with parents that are often times struggling with either mental health issues or addiction. Usually in the suburbs…[homelessness] is based on if parents are able to provide safe or stable situations for kids… More or less, it really depends on the parents,” Dosland said.

In the suburbs, consisting of cities such as Edina, Bloomington, and Richfield, homelessness is often perceived to be nonexistent. However, it is still there and is as problematic as ever. It is here that the issue is hidden, disappearing behind the image that we perceive homelessness to be.

“[Homelessness] presents very differently. Kids are usually couch-hopping or staying with friends or other family members and it’s not as visual as maybe someone downtown… standing on a street corner saying they’re homeless.” Dosland said.

“It’s relatively invisible, and I think that makes it hard for people to know that it’s even an issue, but when I find that people are aware, there’s a huge impact that they can have” Dosland added. Fortunately, he explains that helping to solve this problem doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be as simple as providing a friend with a safe place to stay at night, or fundraising or donating items such as clothes and food to those in need.

In addition, Oasis for Youth is partnered with the Suburban Host Home Program, a unique program that helps youth find safety. “People in the suburbs actually open their homes to let youth who are experiencing homelessness to stay there. They provide a safe place to stay and food,” Dosland said.

At EHS, Dosland works personally with students who are not in stable living conditions, which can come as a shock, considering Edina’s reputation of having a fairly wealthy population and one of the top school districts in the state. “When I first started working here, a lot of people said ‘Edina’s one of the best districts in the State and we don’t have to deal with this problem,’ but homelessness doesn’t discriminate. It can occur in any kind of district or place,” Dosland said.

Homelessness is a major problem in Minnesota and especially one that shouldn’t be ignored because of the lack of awareness. Becoming aware of the problem is the first, and perhaps the most important step in combating this issue as a community.