Flanagan, Walz implore more action to address homeless as pandemic takes its toll

For the thousands of Minnesotans without a stable home, the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly dangerous.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz gestures while talking at the Korean Veterans Memorial in Duluth on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 14, 2021. A former history teacher, Walz said that he was looking at past history to help him move forward in the difficult time after the violence at the U.S. Capitol building last week in Washington, D.C. (Clint Austin /

ST. PAUL — The coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of 6,705 Minnesotans and thousands more livelihoods since hitting the state in March 2020, and it's no secret some populations have been more vulnerable than others.

But the tens of thousands of Minnesotans who don't have a stable home have been particularly vulnerable, oftentimes lacking in shelter, health care and the ability to isolate away from others in order to stop the spread of the airborne virus.

“It is hard enough when someone has stable housing or stable access to health care or stable access to mental health care,” Gov. Tim Walz said at a Wednesday, March 10, event raising awareness for the issue. “Put someone in a position where they have none of those and they are so vulnerable it is almost unimaginable.”

Like most lobbying events during this year’s upended legislative session, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless' annual Homeless Days on the Hill was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic. But COVID-19 also inspired a new urgency in advocates’ and lawmakers’ calls for change. Not only are upward of 20,000 Minnesotans without housing on any given night , but, for the past year, those Minnesotans have been even more vulnerable than usual.

“Homelessness and the impact of not having a home has become clear to Minnesotans over the past year in a way that it has never been before,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said Wednesday.


In the past year, the state allocated $100 million in federal CARES Act dollars to its new COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program, which helps covers rent, mortgage, utilities and other housing-related costs for Minnesotans struggling through the pandemic. Walz has also declared a moratorium on evictions, citing the pandemic’s heavy economic impact and chronic unemployment in the state, plus public health concerns.

Advocacy groups throughout this year have helped put homeless Minnesotans up in hotels when necessary due to the dangers of the virus. Meanwhile, high-profile dispersals of homeless encampments namely in the Twin Cities have generated headlines and drawn significant public reaction.

But even with this year proving especially difficult, Flanagan said Wednesday that homelessness in Minnesota has been an issue long before the state saw its first COVID-19 case. Homelessness also disproportionately impacts Minnesotans of color, with 39% of homeless Minnesotans being Black, according to the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. By comparison, 7% of the state’s total population is Black, according to the U.S. Census.

“Housing is essential to everything else,” she said. “A safe, warm place to sleep and a sense of home shouldn’t be a privilege. It should be a right.”

Even after the pandemic subsides, Walz implored advocates and policymakers to keep pushing for increased shelters, housing and funding. In his recently proposed supplemental bonding package, Walz proposed an addition $100 million in housing infrastructure bonds to

"It’s not just hyperbole: We expect every person to have stable housing in this state and anything short of that means we have more work to do," he said.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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