Homeless advocates email council to vote against Task Force

While I support the task force to combat homelessness, I do agree with a couple of aspects from the people who emailed the city council to oppose it. The data and research has been done for several years, you just need to act and I think the TF should consist of stakeholders in the neighborhood, not friends of the mayor and council. Michelle makes some good points about the opportunity to act over the years. Mayor TenHaken promised in his 1st campaign he would make it a priority, the problem has only gotten worse. It will be an interesting debate tonight.

The first email is from former city councilor Michelle Erpenbach;

Good afternoon, City Council members.

Thank you for your service, and for taking a few minutes to review my reasons for asking you to vote no tomorrow on item 76 — against yet another Homeless Task Force. I would be there in person Tuesday, but I will be working in a neighborhood where Thrive’s Kid Link initiative is supporting programming that seeks to help prevent homelessness among children in our schools.

Homelessness is a complex topic that does not have a single silver-bullet solution. It takes many individuals and organizations with like minds and missions, working collaboratively! Your proposed new task force would splinter existing efforts while ignoring work that has been done recently — and continues to be done – by city staff, Helpline and other local non-profits, members of the Thrive Housing Action Team, and by the city/county Accessible Housing Advisory Board.

It’s time to stop studying and start doing, friends. I’m happy to schedule time to help you catch up with this important topic. In the meantime, please review these links and my comments:

  1. Thrive Housing Action Team (including city, county, and federal staff!) created a Housing Retention Specialist in 2021. Pilot program at East River Legal Services has successfully prevented eviction for 9 families and their children in just a year of operation. The real need? City partnership to take this from pilot to sustainability. Read more: https://siouxfallsthrive.org/children-families-secure-housing/. These conversations are already in the works.
  2. The Accessible Housing Advisory Board, city staff Amos Abu, and a variety of housing stakeholders including Helpline Center and Thrive are working on a Housing Navigation Portal that will help connect tenants with potential housing that meets their existing needs and budget. The real need? Council support and funding to help make the portal a reality.
  3. Former city housing staff (Chellee Unruh) met with clients of the St. Francis House and others to learn more about specific needs from that unique community. The real need? I would recommend reviewing this existing data, so you get a better understanding of this topic from the people living it every day.
  4. Thrive Housing Action Team (again, including city, county, and federal staff) created the OneRoof project that is providing wraparound services for those families who are most difficult to house. This is no longer a pilot and is thriving inside The Community Outreach. Read more: https://siouxfallsthrive.org/oneroof-evaluation/The real need? City support for the unmet needs that some of these folks continue to have.
  5. City/county project Just Home is tackling homelessness for those people impacted by the justice system. The real need? Council members to become well-versed in this important project and ready to support proposals that will come your way within months.
  6. Key non-profits are providing services for our unhoused neighbors. The real need? City council members to acknowledge the important work of St. Francis House, Bishop Dudley and UGM, and encourage them to work together in a stronger spirit of collaboration.
  7. Finally, the biggest need is for more local money without state/federal strings attached for building housing that is affordable to the poorest of our neighbors. Those in the 30% of AMI range. This comes in the form of a Housing Trust Fund. Even Rapid City has an HTF now and it is fully funded while the city of Sioux Falls didn’t grasp the idea when it was proposed 10 years ago. Thrive’s Housing Action Team is taking the challenge and will have a presentation for you in the coming months.

Again, please don’t splinter ongoing work and collaborations. Please encourage the city to instead join these organizations in building a better partnership and collective impact.

Stop studying and start doing.

Michelle Erpenbach

President

Sioux Falls Thrive

The second email is from Anny Libengood from Minnehaha County Human Services;

Hi, I am a social worker and was a front line worker at Human Services for 18 years. Most recently I was the Housing Navigator. During this time, I became closely and extensively involved in the lives of many vulnerable people in addition to learning the inner workings of community resources. 

The first thing elected leaders need to do is educate themselves on what work and research has already been done. They need to know what programs are out there, have been out there, and what programs need to shift and what programs need to stop duplicating services/resources. About 15 years ago, we had a 10 year plan to end homelessness as did many communities. We also had the Homeless Advisory Board that did extensive work and research. Did we implement anything? No. Fast forward 15 years and we now have TWO Augustana research studies telling us what the community needs to do. The research was extensive and included perspectives of front line staff and those experiencing homelessness. What have we done with these studies? Checked the box that we did them, I guess. “We” just keep creating groups because “we” can’t figure out what to do. (Thrive, Forward SF, Empower, AHAB, Sioux Empire Leadership Council, etc. etc.) and then none of them talk to each other. Stop studying the problem over and over again. It’s time to start the work. 

A couple of reasons the Bishop Dudley police calls have tripled is because the former director was a former police officer. It was easy for the calls to not be “logged”- and yes this is true. He told me this himself when I was providing case management to the homeless families staying there. He didn’t want the neighborhood or powers above him to see the calls and start complaining. Also, his no trespass list was longer than my arm. The current director has to go through regular police call protocols and she is trying to respect the mission of the BDHH which is Open Doors, Open Arms.

Please reconsider this Task Force and Study idea. I am willing to help educate. All you have to do is ask.

Thank you. I plan to be at the council meeting tomorrow.



5 comments ↓

#1 Nonprofit Payday on 06.07.22 at 10:03 am

I would love to see the financials of Thrive. Can’t seem to find anything on their site and no annual report since 2019. Nonprofits always make me laugh because someone is always getting rich on the backend.

#2 Mike Lee Zitterich on 06.07.22 at 11:39 am

I can see both sides of this argument, while I see how a task force can help produce answers, working directly with the City Council, and if done correctly, the Mayor gets to choose 4 people, while the City Council chooses the other 5 people directly. Rick set this up very well.

The intention is to hold “public meetings” once a month, that I agree with; and why I support Rick on his proposal…

However, I also see that many non-profit organizations, the county, and past city councils have publically engaged in this by enacting programs that may or may not be working.

But, if the goal is to hold “Public Meetings” allowing for public discussion, I have no issue with a Task Force, especially where the City Council plays a huge role in nominating and choosing more than 50% of the members.

People like Scott, Sierra, David Z, Mike Z, and others will have a chance to speak up and voice their grievances, opinions, thoughts, shared experiences, and proposals to the Task Force itself, which has to publically engage with the Mayor and Council every so often, let alone in November of 2022.

I think Rick’s goal here is to bring all those people together, promising to hold such public discussion to learn what works, and what does NOT work.

So, I would lean to supporting a “Task Force” if done correctly.

Mike Zitterich

#3 D@ily Spin on 06.07.22 at 1:29 pm

There’s a serious homeless problem. Any effort must be expedited. Criticism should be quashed. Immediate action, organized or not, is welcome. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to hunger. What would the Jesus Plow do?

#4 Fear & Loathing in Sioux Falls on 06.07.22 at 9:16 pm

The Jesus Plows are praying for snow. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

#5 Fear & Loathing in Sioux Falls on 06.08.22 at 9:18 am

I would prefer a “Leadership Team” over a task force.