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Plan to cut homelessness released by governor
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A project embraced by the governor allows Lisa Allen to pay a fixed 30 percent of her monthly disability income towards the rent on her three-bedroom, two-bath apartment. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is offering a $20 million downpayment on what he says is an effort to eliminate chronic homelessness in Minnesota by 2010. Pawlenty says he'll ask lawmakers to borrow the funding during the upcoming legislative session, but critics of the administration say the governor's plan won't make up for spending cuts made last year as part of a multi-billion dollar deficit reduction plan.

St. Paul, Minn. — State officials estimate there are roughly 4,000 Minnesota families confronting long-term homelessness. Until last March, that figure included Lisa Allen, 38, and two of her children. Allen, who is unable to work because of a chronic disability, now lives in the Jackson Street Village supportive housing development in St. Paul.

"When I was homeless, it was because of domestic violence. And I kind of got shifted around to a couple different shelters. And for some reason, my name came up for this program. And it worked," she said.

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Image Rep. Jim Ramstad

The project is supported through a mix of public and private investments, allowing Allen to pay a fixed 30 percent of her monthly disability income towards the rent on her three-bedroom, two-bath apartment.

Gov. Pawlenty, who visited the site, says he'd like to see similar opportunities for the other 4,000 homeless households.

"In a state like Minnesota, it's not that big of a number where we couldn't identify the individuals in need, do a better job of meeting that need in a way that removes them from the status of chronically homeless and begins to move them on a path towards self-sufficiency and a better place," Pawlenty said.

Tackling the problem is likely to cost more than $400 million according to administration officials. For now, the governor is calling for $20 million this year in state borrowing. The state Housing Finance Agency will also redirect roughly $90 million from its future budgets to the project. Pawlenty says that funding can expand in later years and is likely to draw additional public, private, and non-profit dollars into the program.

Pawlenty says he'll also lobby federal officials for help creating new housing opportunities and providing the social services many homeless individuals need to stabilize their lives.

Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad says he's already made that point to the Bush administration. "Imagine being homeless in Minnesota last night. Imagine being told at the temporary shelter that they're full. Imagine, then, turning to the bottle or a needle or another hit to escape the pain of 20-degree-below-zero temperatures."

But House Democrats say the governor's plan is disappointing. Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, represents the district that where Jackson Street Village is located. Lesch says that as part of Pawlenty's no-new-taxes budget balancing plan, the state Housing Finance Agency lost more than $24 million this year for the construction and rehabilitation of low-income housing.

Lesch also points to reductions in subsidized health care access and other services for the poor.

"The governor took money through the legislative process last session. With one hand, the governor giveth, with the other hand he taketh away. And he's doing that again today with a project that does absolutely nothing for the people of Minnesota to address homelessness," according to Lesch.

Pawlenty acknowledges that cuts were made last year. But he says this year's state bonding bill presents a fresh opportunity to inject new dollars into homeless programs.

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