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Annual count of people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota takes place Wednesday

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It can be a challenge to determine a precise number of the number of people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota and around the country.

One way that officials approach that challenge is the annual Point-in-Time count, when volunteers and people who work with the homeless unite to count the number of people staying in shelters and outdoors on a given night. In communities across Minnesota this year, that night is Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Michele Reid, housing program coordinator in Anoka County, said they rely on information from the police department and other community partners to find and count those experiencing homelessness.

“This is a really great opportunity for the community to come together to realize that homelessness is a community problem. It's not necessarily owned by one particular agency; we're all working on this together,” Reid said.

Because of January temperatures — the U.S. Department of Housing chose the month for the annual count — Reid said Minnesota makes sure to include people who are “doubled up,” living on the couches of friends and family to stay out of the cold. Reid said the number of people couch-hopping in Anoka County last January was 144, slightly higher than the number staying in shelters. Last year’s count in Anoka County found 23 people living outside, which could include cars, tents, bus shelters and other sites.

Overall, the 2019 count found 7,977 people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota. The number of homeless individuals has ranged between 7,200 and around 8,000 since 2017.

In Blaine, the police department will take the count one step further by providing a meal and resources on Wednesday night. Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany says the north metro suburb has seen an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

In order to address their needs, police are taking what Podany called a “compassionate approach.” The former Buffalo Wild Wings in the Northtown Mall will be open from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. that evening to provide people with housing, food assistance, and mental wellness and addiction resources. Hepatitis A and flu shots will be available as well.

Podany said a similar event in December drew more than 30 people. Police were able to do outreach by going to gathering places of people experiencing homelessness.

“By bringing the providers to them,” Podany said, “we were able to get them hooked up with immediate services, and the providers then prioritize their response not only that night but in the following immediate days — so it's not something where, ‘we'll talk to you in a month and a half.’ It’s immediate.”

Podany said December’s event included families as well as individuals.

Podany said he hopes to continue outreach events in the future, saying “as long as we keep helping people out, we’d like to keep it going as long as we can.”