David Hewitt is the Director of the Office to End Homelessness for Hennepin County. He works to align the efforts of nonprofits, shelter providers and many layers of government as they work together to best serve people experiencing homelessness.
I go where my wife wants to go, and I figure out what I want to do when I get there. That policy has been working for me! She was living in Europe when we met, and we worked together in Cambodia for a number of years. She wanted to be closer to her family in St. Paul.
I’m from London, and there are things I missed while in Cambodia. I love the seasons here, even if the winter’s a little longer than seems necessary. I’ve also taken up cycling—but I haven’t learned to drive yet! I should probably do that at some point.
I was working out what to do what my life, and I was drawn to areas where I felt there was a failure of compassion in a community. I saw an entry level six-month position at a homelessness nonprofit in London. I thought: “That looks like a reasonable way to spend the next six months,” which became 10 years.
I got really passionate about education and meaningful activity. People need a roof, people need homes, but it doesn’t stop there. People need opportunities to be creative, to be artistic, to educate themselves, and socialize with others who are being creative and artistic and educating themselves.
The Office to End Homelessness role is around coordination and system-wide strategy for the homeless sector.
Last year we hads 6,000 single adults and 1,200 families pass through our shelter system. Yet we’ve connected 5,000 people to permanent supportive housing over the last several years, and of that around 94% each year will be stable in that housing or move to another positive destination. So we have solutions that work, but there’s an incredible demand on the system.
I make sure that i’m regularly in spaces with people experiencing homelessness.
And a lot of people have my phone number at this point! So I regularly find myself going and meeting somebody who wants to talk to me about their experience. I feel it’s an important thing to be responsive to.
I am of opinion that homelessness is unnecessary. That it shouldn’t happen. That it needn’t happen. But we are in the midst of a severe housing crisis. We have an historically low vacancy rate. We have historically high rents. And that’s a perfect storm that squeezes people who are on low incomes or who have other barriers to housing out of the housing market.
In Minneapolis, the affordable housing task force just made their recommendations. They’re proposing a dramatic increase in the investment in affordable housing, up to $50 million a year, with an explicit focus on investing in housing that is accessible to people in that very lowest income bracket. I would love to see those recommendations and those resources become a reality. That would make a difference.
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