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St. Stephen’s Human Services is boosting the number of staff who help homeless families after scoring a new $5 million grant from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ charitable fund — the largest foundation grant the Minneapolis nonprofit has received in its nearly 50-year history.

St. Stephen’s is the only Minnesota organization and one of 32 nonprofits in the U.S. to receive the one-time grant from the $2 billion fund Bezos launched last year to benefit the opening of preschools in low-income neighborhoods and nonprofits that help homeless families.

St. Stephen’s will use the money to hire six staff members to help nearly 200 more families per year find housing over the next five years.

“It is a significant increase,” Annie Wells, director of family programs, said about the extra staffing. “The need is so great and so deep, so this isn’t going to end homelessness in Hennepin County. But it will make an impact.”

Homelessness in Minnesota has reached a record high, rising 10% since 2015 to 10,233 people, according to Wilder Research. However, the number of homeless families has decreased by 5% since 2015 — something Wells said could be because of the increased work that Twin Cities nonprofits are doing to help families.

“Families tend to be less visible and the impact is just as great,” Wells said.

Across the Twin Cities, low apartment vacancy rates, rising rents and the loss of affordable apartments that are converted into luxury units has put growing pressure on low-income residents.

Next month, the Hennepin County Board will consider a proposal to add more shelter beds for couples, case management staff at shelters and a women-only shelter in 2020. The proposal would cost about $1 million, said Mike Herzing, a director with the county’s human services department. Earlier this year, the County Board also approved a 10-year, $50 million plan to add 1,000 supportive housing units.

St. Stephen’s, known more for its street outreach to homeless people and its emergency shelters, also has a 24-staff division for families that has slowly grown over the years, Wells said.

Last year, the nonprofit worked with more than 600 families, a number that has stayed relatively steady over three years. “They may be your bank teller or your cashier at a restaurant,” Wells added.

Bezos’ second annual grant from his Day One Fund will help the St. Stephen’s initiative for families who show up at its shelter, connecting them to services and short-term housing. Last year, Minneapolis-based Simpson Housing Services received a $2.5 million grant from Bezos’ fund, the largest in that nonprofit’s 35-year history, to expand its family housing program.

St. Stephen’s, like many social services agencies, relies mostly on government grants, drawing in $8.8 million in government aid last year to support its $12 million budget, according to tax forms. Earlier this year, Minneapolis awarded St. Stephen’s $300,000, half of which came from city funds and half from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But foundation grants tend to be more flexible than government grants that are tied to specific services, so the nonprofit, which has 111 total staff, also seeks foundation funding. In fact, St. Stephen’s got more grant news on Thursday when the Otto Bremer Trust announced the nonprofit would receive $80,000 for general operations.

Families in need

St. Stephen’s Human Services helps more than 600 Hennepin County families a year.

671 families

2017

651 families

2018

611 families

2019