Every three years Wilder Foundation senior research scientist Craig Helmstetter helps calculate the number of people who are homeless in Minnesota. When Helmstetter and his colleagues at the St. Paul-based non profit wrote up their findings of the Foundation's 2006 survey they counted 9,200 homeless people in Minnesota - a leveling off, even a slight decline from 2003.
The next Wilder Foundation homelessness survey will be 2009, but already Helmstetter is seeing a troubling trend. Shelters for people who are homeless are full and overflowing.
A shelter in Moorhead is reporting a six percent increase in people needing help and he's hearing about increases elsewhere, Helmstetter says.
"We see a 13 percent increase in the number of families accessing shelter here in Ramsey county," he says.
More troubling evidence.
A few days ago he visited one of the larger homeless shelters in Minneapolis. The facility has 99 units for homeless families but demand for the units is much higher.
"They said that they are serving 127 families in those 99 units so they're actually getting people who are already homeless and asking them to double up in shelter because there's not capacity to house them elsewhere."
Still more evidence.
Requests for help have never been higher, according to Leslie Frost, the executive director of a north Minneapolis non profit, Families Moving Forward, which serves people who are homeless.
"Our calls for service are up 100 percent from this time last year," she says.
In fact, Frost says, they are swamped with calls. Families Moving Forward is a consortium of 41 Twin Cities religious groups. Every year they help as many as 60 homeless families a year find emergency shelters and then arrange more permanent housing, services, education and a job.
When the staff is busy with the families the calls for help roll into an answering machine. A few weeks ago Frost produced an audio montage which includes portions of phone messages with requests for help to illustrate the sharp increase they experiencing.
"I'm a single father with a 14 year old daughter looking for a place," says one caller.
"I'm calling for emergency family shelter I have two twins," says another.
"I'm with my client Marianne today and she has six children five boys and one daughter and she is going to be in need of housing," another caller says.
"Hi, my name is Charley we are faced with an eviction. I have two children. I lost a job and got laid off, so I lost (my) home and...some other issues. I lost this job it was a good job," says another.
Hennepin County officials report the shelters they contract with for emergency housing are full and they have sent dozens of families the past two months to an overflow shelter in downtown Minneapolis.
The apparent uptick in homeless numbers in Minnesota is anecdotal at this point.
The state has an ambitious plan to end long term homelessness by 2010. The nearly half billion dollar effort funds the creation of 4000 units of housing and pays for services to help families.
State officials report they are nearly halfway toward the housing goal. A top goal of the state effort is to prevent homelessness by reaching people before they lose their housing.
New information that Wilder Foundation's Craig Helmstetter is uncovering may place a huge strain on the goal.
The problem is the growth in the number of people who are "cost burdened". Those are people with low incomes paying more than a third of the income for housing.
That population in several Twin Cities counties could double, Helmstetter says. Eight years ago there were just over 71,000 households in the four Twin Cities counties Wilder studied who were cost burdened.
"Now we are projecting that by 2010 that number is going to be approaching 140,000 households that are both low income and cost burdened," he says.
At the end of July the Bush Administration released a department of Housing and Urban Development homelessness report showing a nearly one-third decline between 2005 and 2007 in the number of chronically homeless people living on the streets and in shelters in this country.
That may be a difficult trend to maintain if other states are experiencing what appears to be happening in Minnesota where shelters are overflowing and requests for help are spiraling upward.