GF homeless find helping handsThey came in the door alone or with a friend or two, or with two or three children in tow. Some drove. Others caught a bus or a ride with a friend, or they walked, bundled in layers against Thursday’s cold wind. Hesitant, proud, scared, curious, they came from the Northlands Rescue Mission downtown, or from the apartments of friends or relatives who have put them up until they can get on their feet.
By: By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
They came in the door alone or with a friend or two, or with two or three children in tow.
Some drove. Others caught a bus or a ride with a friend, or they walked, bundled in layers against Thursday’s cold wind.
Hesitant, proud, scared, curious, they came from the Northlands Rescue Mission downtown, or from the apartments of friends or relatives who have put them up until they can get on their feet.
This was part of getting back on their feet: a hot meal, a warm new jacket, expert legal or medical advice, a haircut, a line on a job or job training.
A friendly face, someone to listen.
More than 100 volunteers, most of them young and smiling and clad in sky-blue “Project Connect” T-shirts, welcomed the homeless and near-homeless to a mall of help and hope Thursday, the second such outreach organized by Grand Forks officials and agencies.
Like last year, the daylong event in the Grand Cities Mall, in space donated by Hope Evangelical Covenant Church, was paired with a veterans “stand down.” The VA Medical Center in Fargo and other advocates provided advice on military benefits, counseling and — a big hit — free boots and winter parkas.
“I like it here,” said Steve Walker, 56, a veteran who came to Project Connect with a friend, Jeannie Hogen, who was in a wheelchair. She is not working, she said, and she’s struggling with health problems.
A space opened up in a row of in-take volunteers, and Walker edged the wheelchair in close so Hogen could tell her story.
“I always come to stand downs,” he said as he waited. “The past 15 years, whatever state I’m in, whether I’m working or not working, I like to be with the other vets.
“My circumstances are OK right now. I’m working, driving a truck. But I still like to keep in touch. And I wanted to be here today with my friend.”
people lose hope
It had been called Project Homeless Connect last year, but the name was changed to encourage participation by people who might not think of themselves as homeless. They may be at the edge, or clinging to the edge.
“We want to connect with people before they teeter too far,” said Emily Wright, of the Grand Forks Housing Authority and Project Connect organizer.
“If we can work with them before they lose hope, we can make a huge difference.”
Monica Johnston, 55, waiting patiently in line, said she’s living in an East Grand Forks residence for people who have struggled with alcohol.
“I’m doing pretty good,” she said. “I’ve got 60 days in over there now. I always tell my kids I’m doing fine because I don’t want my kids to worry about me.
“It’s my daughter’s birthday today,” she said, smiling. “She’s 35 today, and she’s doing good. She’s got a job. She’s a good girl.”
Monica has other children. “Two are in jail,” she said. “One is in prison.”
Originally from the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in north-central Minnesota, she was homeless in Minneapolis for 10 years and had some run-ins with the law. She had studied accounting for 3½ years, she said, “but the alcohol … I defaulted on student loans, and I can’t go back until I pay them.
“So that’s the plan: sobriety, get to a better place, get a job and start paying those loans back so they release my transcripts and I can go back to school.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” she said. “They’ve got a lot of job information here today.”
Most who sought help want to work
Rachel Bridgeford, a nurse at Altru Clinic, volunteered to help serve lunch: barbecues, hot dogs, creamy tomato or beefy vegetable soup, fruit cups, cookies.
“It’s really good to hear so many of the people talking about work, about wanting to work,” she said as she ladled soup. “That dispels a lot of the stereotypes.”
At a table staffed by North Dakota Job Service, customer service specialist Toni Autrey heard the same refrain as she explained training and work opportunities.
“They’re looking for work, asking for training programs and help with resumes,” she said.
In many cases, they also need help with a festering problem, something that makes it difficult to focus on school or a job search.
Jessica Bergman, with the Community Violence Intervention Program, talked with several Project Connect participants about domestic violence and child abuse.
“Some have asked for help,” she said.
And down a hallway, paralegal Paulette Throntveit of Legal Services of North Dakota worked through questions of parental visitation rights, collection law, statutes of limitations on personal injuries, Social Security and pension issues, and retrieval of personal property following an eviction.
‘Never give up’
Don is a taut 76, a retired welder outfitted in a beaded cowboy hat, jeans and a leather Harley Davidson jacket.
A recovering alcoholic, he called the Grand Forks mission home for 10 years before he sobered up 25 years ago.
“I still have coffee at the mission every morning,” he said. “Many I knew back then are gone, but I’ve gotten to know some of the new guys.”
Chuck Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.