family financial empowerment collaboration

People Serving People, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), Research in Action, and Hennepin County, are pursuing a pilot program to grow family stability by demonstrating sustainable alternatives to self-pay for families experiencing homelessness. We are further pursuing the goal to build family financial power and make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Families directly impacted by homelessness and self-pay know what is best for themselves, and we must center their experience, voices, and choices. As people impacted by system decisions, they should inform and influence them.

What is Self-Pay?

Hennepin County’s Shelter All Policy for Families mandates the county to provide shelter for all eligible families. If families have the means, they are to contribute to the cost of their shelter stay — self-pay. Public assistance and a considerable amount of earned income is diverted to the county and providers to offset the cost of shelter. In 2019, Hennepin County updated this policy to enable families to keep $70 per family member per month (ex. $210/month for a family of three) for personal needs.

Many families experience self-pay as a source of frustration and a barrier to exiting homelessness. African American and Native American families are overrepresented in the experience of family homelessness. The impact of self-pay further divests African American and Native American community members of their financial resources and prohibits asset building.

Dr. Brittany Lewis’ report for CURA, Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Project in North Minneapolis recommends an end to the self-pay requirement to enable shelters to implement asset-building and empowerment programs for guests. Ending self-pay would allow shelters to play an empowering role for guests through asset-building and financial education.

We will pilot alternatives to self-pay with a goal of decreasing this barrier by allowing families to retain and grow their financial resources on their way to housing stability, increasing family agency and helping to build family, personal, and financial power

Collaboration History

Informed by families during their time with People Serving People, the policy requiring families to self-pay for emergency shelter is a top frustration. This was also affirmed in qualitative research conducted by CURA in its Illusion of Choice: Evictions and Project in North Minneapolis report.

People Serving People, CURA, Research in Action, the Pohlad Foundation, and Hennepin County’s Eligibility Work Services (EWS) Division have been concurrently discussing a pilot to reinvent self-pay for the purpose of changing policies to better support attaining housing stability. The collaborators came together in summer, 2019 to share our particular interests and develop collective goals in this work together.


In 2018, People Serving People sheltered 939 families. More than 88% of our families were comprised of people of color and 80% of our guests were women. Families enter shelter with varying financial resources — no income, MFIP, DWP, earned income, income tied to a child, or a combination therein — which are limited and utilized to contribute to their shelter stay. Not only is this a source of frustration and a barrier to exiting homelessness, it further divests African American and Native American community members of their financial resources and prohibits asset building. To provide informed policy and practice recommendations for systems actors and service providers, the collaboration will target one or more of these categories of financial resources to pilot alternatives. This pilot will advance equitable outcomes at the intersection of race and gender through increasing financial and housing stability.

Racial Equity and Authentic Community Engagement

At People Serving People, we think of racial equity as the just and fair inclusion into a society in which all people of color and indigenous people can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. We center the experiences of those impacted most directly by homelessness and support their vision for their own lives and our community. To accomplish this, we adopt a racial equity lens where we pay disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing problems, looking for solutions, and defining success. We recognize the importance of investigating the ways structures and processes are also shaped by gender, economic status, class, sexuality, immigration status, etc. to fully understand the cumulative and intersectional impacts of oppression. We are cognizant of the role of power to affect change and actively work to build power with those impacted by homelessness.

Collective Goals

What are we seeking to do together?

1.+ Demonstrate alternatives to how families financially contribute toward their shelter stay, the amount they retain towards their goals, and how they are supported toward building financial empowerment and skills.

2.+Results in recommendations or systems shifts should be fiscally viable and financially sustainable for families, service providers, and Hennepin County.

3.+Increase family agency, housing stability, and personal and financial power.

Collaborative Partners

Family Financial Empowerment Action Committee is a group comprised of people with lived experience of family homelessness and self-pay, allies, and partner organizations. This group will guide the research, implementation, and evaluation of the pilot program that will lead to shifts in policy and practice at the organization, community, and county. They are advocates for systems change and better experiences for families at shelters.

People Serving People works with families during their experience of homelessness and upstream through systems change. Guided by our mission, “We exist to see families thrive,” this pilot advances our strategic priorities on authentic engagement, racial equity, and changing the narrative about homelessness.

The Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) has the mission to connect “the resources of the University of Minnesota with the interests and needs of urban communities and the region for the benefit of all.” CURA pursues its mission by facilitating and supporting connections between state and local governments, neighborhoods, nonprofits, and resources at the University, including faculty and students from campuses, colleges, centers, or departments.

Research in Action, led by CEO and Founder Dr. Brittany Lewis, is an urban research, strategy, coaching, and community engagement firm. RIA guarantees their client’s success by using a human-centered collaborative approach called Equity in Action.

Hennepin County, Eligibility Work Services (EWS) works with families in Hennepin County who need shelter, financial assistance, health care, employment, and child care to stabilize their lives. The vision of EWS is to strengthen and enhance the lives of those they serve, and the mission is to provide access to public assistance programs to meet basic needs and increase self-sufficiency of Hennepin County residents. Currently undergoing transformation, they are improving customer experience using a frame of person-centered and multi-generational approaches.

For more information please contact

Rinal Ray
Interim Executive Director

Laurel Lilligren
Director of Family Support

FFEC logos: People Serving People, UofM Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Research in Action & Hennepin County