More than 10,200 Minnesotans were homeless in 2018, a population that increased 10% in just three years. In St. Louis County alone, homelessness grew by more than 23% between 2015 and 2018, as the News Tribune reported in March. Most of these homeless are young to middle-aged adults, although more-recent trends show an increasing number of people of retirement age becoming homeless.

Duluth offers excellent outreach programs like CHUM, the Damiano Center, and Loaves and Fishes. So why is homelessness increasing here?

The truth is, many factors make homelessness a complex issue that affects more than just the homeless. It affects our whole community — and we must all come together to solve it.

Many aspects related to homelessness tend to be misunderstood, such as mental health, mental disability, financial resources, affordable housing, the effects of major life events, and addiction. All may lead to stereotypes. Along with these factors are very limited resources, such as mental health facilities, addiction centers, and affordable housing. A lack of vital resources for homeless individuals keeps the cycle going.

Is housing enough? Duluth is currently going through an affordable-housing crisis. With the cost of living increasing, more upscale apartment buildings being built, and more businesses popping up in what had been low-income areas, finding affordable housing has become increasingly challenging. Without adequate access to affordable housing, many people are forced onto the streets, and they’re unprepared.

Fortunately, the Duluth Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights was passed. It was supposed to help eliminate housing barriers for the homeless.

There are many health risks related to homelessness. St. Elizabeth University of Health in Slovakia determined in 2016 that 40% of homeless people report one chronic health problem. Trauma is a significant cause of disability among homeless individuals.

Homelessness can lead to a lack of hygiene and to outbreaks of contagious diseases like hepatitis. The liver infection develops from a virus and is spread from person to person. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, individuals with improperly sanitized injection materials, such as needles, and no access to restroom facilities will encounter Hepatitis A. Diseases are easily spread and contracted between homeless individuals who don’t have the proper resources for basic hygiene, sanitation, and health care services. Facing the elements without proper clothing or shelter also increases a person’s chance of catching diseases and common colds.

One of the primary misconceptions about the cause of homelessness has to do with addiction. A study done by the National Coalition for the Homeless stated that, “In many situations, however, substance abuse is a result of homelessness rather than a cause. People who are homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situations.” The study found that “38% of homeless people are alcohol-dependent, and 26% are dependent on other harmful chemicals.” It also noted that, “Oftentimes addiction is a result of homelessness. The difficult conditions of living on the street, having to find food, struggling with ill health, and constantly being away from loved ones can create a highly stressful state of being.”

In a different study, the National Coalition for the Homeless explained that even when people get clean, it is hard for them to stay clean without a place to stay: “Even if they do break their addictions, homeless people may have difficulty remaining sober while living on the streets where substances are so widely used.”

The state of Minnesota is engulfed by people in need. Research shows there are many factors that result in homelessness. It’s an issue that continues to increase. There are options to help; they just require time and effort.

As a community, we need to support and implement programs that work to address homelessness’ complex factors — such as mental health, addiction, sanitation, and affordable housing — in order to help homeless individuals. You can help by supporting community programs and council members who are working to help this epidemic.

Kaitlin Draheim, Alyssa Hunter, Christeva Perrotti, Ailee Leppi, and Julia Vang are University of Minnesota Duluth students determined, they said, to promote change for Duluth’s homeless community.