The article regarding a Chaska High School DECA project to help homeless youth demonstrated a critical problem in efforts to prevent and end homelessness: whether or not such efforts are viable long-term solutions.
The article ("DECA project helps homeless youth," Nov. 29) highlighted the efforts of a nonprofit called Hippy Feet. A major part of the nonprofit’s work is to provide job training to homeless youth. According to its website it provides “...basic skill training in inventory management, packaging, shipping and sales” with the goal of getting homeless youth into the workforce and into housing.
In writing, this seems like a viable solution to ending homelessness based on the assumption that current wages can support housing needs. However, this isn’t the reality of the situation. The Minnesota Housing Partnership states that in 2017 a full-time worker at the minimum wage of $9.50 couldn’t afford a one-bedroom apartment in any county in Minnesota.
The average wage in Minnesota in 2017 was $14.28 an hour. A full-time worker with this hourly wage couldn’t afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county, and could only afford a one-bedroom apartment in less than one-third of all Minnesota counties.
Based on the skills they are being taught, let’s assume youth receiving training through Hippy Feet enter the workforce as retail employees. According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership, the annual income for people in retail sales in 2017 was $21,400; this is nearly $10,000 less than the average annual cost of rent for a one-bedroom apartment, which was $30,505 in 2017. This is not an optimistic outlook for the youth helped by Hippy Feet and other organizations offering job training.
Employment itself is not the main issue. According to the Wilder Foundation’s 2015 Minnesota Homeless Study, 42 percent of homeless youth were employed, with youth being defined as unaccompanied homeless minors and homeless young adults aged 18 to 24; over half of those who were employed earned less than $10 an hour.
The numbers show that while over half of homeless youth are unemployed, those that do have a job don’t make enough to afford even the most basic of apartments.
This is not to say that the DECA students and Hippy Feet aren’t helping anyone; they are providing a necessary, short-term service to the homeless population in Minnesota by donating a pair of socks for every pair bought.
However, if we really want to make a lasting difference in the lives of homeless youth, and homeless adults, we should go beyond the “get a job” mentality. In the current economy, “getting a job” isn’t enough anymore.
We need to advocate for a higher minimum wage and for more affordable housing, such as rent-controlled units and workforce housing developments like Nicollet Meadows in St. Peter, Minnesota. Only then can we truly begin to prevent homelessness.
Chaska High School alumna