Homelessness is a housing problem

“The homeless problem is a housing problem,” according to Tim Marx, the informative and engaging speaker at the UMRA Forum on April 26, 2022. Speaking on the topic “Advancing the Public Good Through Housing,” Marx maintained that many challenges may increase the risk of homelessness (such as chemical dependence, ex-offender status, and domestic abuse), but the root cause of the homeless problem is the housing crisis.

View the slides and a video recording of UMRA’s April 2022 forum with Tim Marx.

Marx is a leading authority on homelessness in the Twin Cities, having served as president and CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 2011 to 2020 and, prior to that, as commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency from 2003 to 2008.  During his tenure at Catholic Charities, the organization dramatically rebuilt and expanded the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul to provide home, shelter, and services to more than 1,000 people per day.  

Except during the Great Depression, homelessness was not a significant problem in the U.S. until the mid to late 1980s, according to Marx. At that time, our country de-institutionalized health care for severe mental illness without providing housing alternatives, wiped out “flop houses” through urban renewal, and stopped investing in public housing. 

Upward trends threaten decades of progress
Once we recognized homelessness as primarily a housing problem, the U.S. made progress by implementing a “housing first” philosophy that emphasizes building more housing, with supportive financial assistance for renters and homeowners. However, trends for the unsheltered population have moved upward again since 2016, threatening decades of progress. 

The good news nationally is that homelessness among veterans has been nearly eliminated. Good progress also has been made with families. Those age 55 and older are experiencing the largest increase in homelessness, exacerbated by their loss of skills and connections. Unfortunately, among the homeless, Marx said, “50 is the new 75.”

Marx provided 2020 statistics showing that Minnesota ranks 17th in the U.S. in terms of the number of homeless people, with approximately 8,000. The states in the top ten are politically blue, red, and purple; the one thing they all have in common is a very tight housing market. According to Marx, Minnesota needs 55,000 more units across the state, and the Twin Cities are at risk of facing the same homeless challenges as Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland.

Throughout his presentation and the question-and-answer session that followed, Marx sought to put a face on the homeless. He referred to a man named Karl who frequented the Dorothy Day Center and inspired Catholic Charities’ work when he said, “Everybody here just wants a job and a place of their own.”  (See video). 

Marx closed by saying we need the political will as a nation to invest in more affordable housing, and he encouraged attendees to “advocate, donate and volunteer.”  

—Barbara Shiels, UMRA Program Committee member

Publication date: 
April 29, 2022
At A Glance
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

2022 Annual Meeting and Forum

Welcome back!

Campus Club, Fourth Floor
West Wing Dining Room
Coffman Memorial Union


10:45 a.m.

Check in


11:15 a.m.

Buffet lunch


Annual Meeting and Forum

Featured speaker
John Coleman, dean
College of Liberal Arts

Chicken in heirloom tomato sauce with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and seasonal vegetables. GF.
For vegetarian/vegan option, please request when making your reservation.

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