Area Homelessness Continues to Increase
Panel discusses causes and solutions
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014
Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 09:02
“Since about 2008, we have had a 349 percent increase in homelessness across North Dakota,” said Michael Carbone, legislative and advocacy co-chair of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People. Carbone and three other panelists spoke at an open forum on Thursday.
The event, sponsored by the NDSU Service Learning and Civic Engagement branch of Student Activities, filled the Hidatsa Room of the Memorial Union to the brim with students, faculty and members of the community interested in the area’s homelessness situation.
The hour-long forum covered topics including who is affected by homelessness, why the numbers of homeless people are increasing in the state and F-M area and what is being and can be done to fight the plight.
Who are the homeless?
“Many of the people that are homeless in this community are, in fact, members of the community,” said Jan Eliassen, director of the Gladys Ray Shelter & Veterans Drop- In Center in Fargo. “Not having a house doesn’t take away from that.”
Eliassen said that homeless people care about their community and wish for its well being just like those with houses do.
But as area deals increasingly with homeless people, resources are being spread thin and regulations have been made more exclusive.
Screening criterion has gotten tougher as more people move to the state, said Laurie Baker, executive director of the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons. People who have a criminal history have a harder time securing housing.
Along with those with a criminal history, other demographics are overrepresented by the population of homeless people, with high percentages of disabled people, veterans, people of color and children found on the streets of Fargo.
“In our Jan. 23, 2013 point-in-time count, we identified nearly 50 unaccompanied youth,” Carbone said.
Unaccompanied minors were rare not too long ago, but more and more of the youth have been found in Fargo and across the state.
There was a 15 percent increase of homeless people overall between 2009 and 2012.
Lynn Fundingsland, executive director of the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority and CEO of Beyond Shelter Inc., said that the tenants his organization helps find and build housing for receive only 20 percent of the median income of the surrounding counties. That adds up to an impoverished-salary of $10-15,000 per year.
“Credit history has become as almost as important as criminal history — maybe more, in terms of history,” Baker said.
When the floor was opened up for discussion, Kathy Coyle, an NDSU employee that works at Barry Hall, brought up the homelessness she witnesses downtown daily and asked who these people actually are.
“Homelessness is a full-time job, it really is,” responded Eliassen, referring to the difficulties of lacking a home. “Just getting out of bed sometimes feels monumental, and now they have to sprout wings and a tail to fly across town and borders just to get requirements met that the system has put in place.”
“Long-term homelessness automatically takes off 25 years off your life,” Baker said. “I think there is a reason why you don’t see elderly homeless people on the streets.”
Why here, why now?
“The influx of people seeking job opportunities has caused an extreme shortage of housing that is extending from west to east in North Dakota,” Carbone said. Because of the Bakken oil boom, many towns across North Dakota have vacancy rates that are near to virtually zero.
Communities have seen costs of rent increase 300-400 percent since the boom, hitting low-income or fixed-income people the hardest. The problems of western North Dakota are not being contained in the oilfields, either; issues are diffusing across state lines into Montana, throughout North Dakota and even into western Minnesota.
“(North Dakota) being the beacon of employment nationally, we have attracted a lot of people that… became unemployed (from the recession),” Fundingsland said.