Recent migrants fill a third of overwhelmed Hennepin County family homeless shelter system

Maya Rao
Star Tribune
October 30, 2023

After a month in New York's overcrowded homeless shelters, two Ecuadorian migrants and their baby recently received a free plane ticket to Minneapolis.

They took a cab to a Bloomington hotel that Hennepin County leases as an overflow family shelter, where many newly arrived Ecuadorians stay. But the couple found a sign in Spanish on the door: "We are not accepting new families at this time."

The 18-year-olds sat on the curb that afternoon as their baby slept on a suitcase, waiting for a room to open in the full hotel.

One-third of the 452 families in homeless shelters run by Hennepin County are newcomers to the United States, as a surge of migrants cross the southern border. Others are being turned away as Hennepin County's system grows so overwhelmed that it is failing to follow its longstanding policy to shelter every homeless family with children. The number of sheltered families has doubled since this summer to nearly four times the county's regular capacity — the highest in at least a decade.

Homelessness among Minnesotans was already surging after the pandemic-era eviction moratorium and rental assistance ended in late 2022, prompting Hennepin County to put unhoused parents and children into overflow hotels. Then an influx of migrants started contributing to the overflow.

It remains unclear how many migrants come to Minnesota directly versus from cities away from the border, but most are Ecuadorians seeking asylum, waiting for court dates that are months or years away. Now the county is lodging more than 1,500 people in its family shelters while searching daily for new rooms.

Hennepin County is one of a handful of jurisdictions in the nation with a "shelter all" policy, though that does not extend to single adults. It budgeted $9.7 million for family shelter this year. By March, the county approved an additional $17 million to meet the exploding demand in 2023, and it expects to spend $22.5 million next year.