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School superintendents fight homelessness

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ST. PAUL — It’s hard for students to do homework when they don’t have a home.

Homework is not a priority for homeless students.

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“Their priority is called survival,” St. Paul schools Superintendent Valeria Silva said Wednesday at a Capitol news conference.

That’s why Silva and other superintendents joined the Homes for All alliance of more than 100 organizations urging the Legislature to borrow $100 million to provide housing for homeless people, preserve affordable rental housing and stabilize communities most affected by foreclosures.

Of the 38,000 students enrolled in St. Paul public schools, about 2,000 are homeless. Silva said it is the highest number in her 28 years in the district.

“Children and youths need to have stable housing so they can regularly attend school and focus on learning,” said Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

While Silva and Johnson were the only superintendents who spoke at the news conference, they said they represented school officials from throughout the state.

The number of homeless people in Minnesota rose from an estimated 9,200 in 2006 to 14,000 now, according to Wilder Research calculations. About half of them are age 21 or younger.

The proposed $100 million bonding measure would build or rehabilitate about 5,000 housing units, said DFL Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee.

She is carrying a $975 million package of public works legislation that would provide $100 million for housing. Her $850 million bonding bill includes $20 million to preserve federally subsidized public housing across the state.

Hausman’s second bill, which would use $125 million in cash from the state’s budget surplus for construction projects, also authorizes the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to issue up to $80 million in housing bonds. The Legislature would have to appropriate cash to pay the debt service on those bonds.

Hausman said the housing agency would partner with private developers and nonprofits — such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and Common Bond — to “leverage a huge amount of private dollars” for housing projects and provide social services to residents who live there.

The funding would reduce chronic homelessness and help communities fix up deteriorating foreclosed homes, the alliance said.

Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed authorizing $50 million in bonds for housing projects.

Passed by the Capital Investment Committee earlier this month, Hausman’s bill awaits final action on the House floor.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee is expected to release its bonding bill this week.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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