Matthew Ayres2015 Rising Alumni

Matthew Ayres photo

Matthew Ayres has developed a well-earned reputation as an expert on homelessness and is a recognized leader in our community among practitioners and policy makers who are addressing this problem. Ayres is currently a planning analyst for Heading Home Hennepin – Hennepin County's 10-year plan to end homelessness. In his role he is responsible for identifying, developing, and maintaining high functioning collaborations among over 100 homeless-serving agencies as well as county staff and leadership. Matthew’s work on a coordinated assessment system has contributed to the most significant overhaul to date in the way that Hennepin County delivers services to people who are experiencing homelessness.


Principal Planning Analyst,
Hennepin County

CEHD Degree

M.S.W., Master of Social Work

What's your favorite memory from the University of Minnesota?

There were a number of wonderful times at the U during my graduate program, but I think the highlight was the first semester of my second year. I took four classes, and split my time between the Humphrey School and the School of Social Work. I was able to get schooled on social welfare and housing policy while simultaneously learning conflict resolution, interpersonal and empathic communication… A mix of skills that I still employ today.

Outside of your job, how do you grow professionally?

I have been actively seeking out opportunities for development like certificate programs and other classes. I also have sought out mentoring and leadership opportunities at Hennepin County to learn from others not focusing on homelessness issues. I have also served on several boards in my South Minneapolis neighborhood.

Who has inspired you the most during your career?

I have had the pleasure of working with people from all over the non-profit and government sectors for the past eight years since graduating from the U of M. Of all the people I have worked closely with, it is the front line staff in shelters and outreach workers that inspire me to do my work. The late hours, the chaos, the disappointments and occasional successes, all for relatively terrible pay because they believe in the work they are doing and in the people they work with.

What professor(s) or course(s) were most influential during your time in the College of Education & Human Development (CEHD)?

Liz Lightfoot was incredibly influential in my degree program, and the skills I learned in her classes I still use on a daily basis. Intro to Community Organizing and Advocacy was one of the all time great classes I have ever had. Megan Morrissey's History of Social Work and Social Welfare was also hugely impactful in my development.

What gets you excited about work?

Homelessness issues are exhausting and frustrating. It is often a long slog for limited success, only to turn around and face a new set of barriers and struggles. Out of the chaos, however, comes the occasional big win, where even from a policy standpoint you can see that the work you have done led to someone finding stability in housing, and access to the services they need to maintain that stability. Being able to draw a line directly from the policy work that we are doing to someone finding housing is what has kept me excited and passionate about this work.

What's a "fun fact" about you?

I have had a bunch of interesting jobs. I was an adventure guide for canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing and dog sledding trips, as well as a caver for an archaeological project in northern Guatemala. I have also done carpentry and professional gardening work.