No Vacancy

GO AWAY. HENNEPIN County has been trying to get this message out to poor people for a while--first, some years ago, with the offer of a free one-way bus ticket out of town, then with a welfare-reform proposal that would have denied benefits to recent arrivals. But never has the county been quite as blunt as in its proposed new shelter policy: Under it, people who have been living in Hennepin County for less than a year will get emergency shelter for just five days.

The new policy--which saw its first official debate in a County Board committee meeting Tuesday--starts out with a set of benign-sounding principles: "Emergency shelter policies will provide a basic physical safety net for everyone," the first reads, "taking into account the particular dangers presented by our climate." Following in short order, however, are phrases like "personal and family responsibility" and "diminishing resources," standard code for getting tough and cutting benefits. "Newly arrived residents"--including those from, say, St. Paul or Apple Valley--will be offered a drastically reduced menu of services. They'll still get information on the Twin Cities' sky-high rental rates and rock-bottom vacancy rates, as well as the use of a telephone and short-term daycare. But to get shelter even for five days they'll have to show how they plan to get out. If a family doesn't come up with a plan, county workers will figure out whether "child-protection issues are present," read: whether to take kids away from their homeless parents.

Three years ago, Hennepin revoked its long-standing guarantee of emergency housing for everyone; shelter was offered only to people with kids or with a certified mental or physical problem. Hundreds of others have been sleeping on the floor at a "Safe Waiting Area" on Currie Avenue ("Last Known Address," 9/3).

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