Homelessness is reality for many in city, areaHomelessness may not be easy to see in Jamestown, but as National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week wraps up, local officials stress that it’s here and it’s very real.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
Homelessness may not be easy to see in Jamestown, but as National Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week wraps up, local officials stress that it’s here and it’s very real.
It’s hard to pin down an exact count of the homeless in Stutsman County and the surrounding counties that make up Region 6 as mandated by the North Dakota Coalition of Homeless People. The other seven counties are Dickey, McIntosh, Logan, LaMoure, Barnes, Griggs, Foster and Wells.
A point-in-time survey conducted in January 2011 puts the number at 48 total homeless persons. But officials on the Community Awareness Coalition here say that number fluctuates based on the time of year and the weather.
July, for example, will see many more homeless individuals in this region of the state because the weather isn’t as harsh.
It’s also hard to get an exact number because of the different classifications of homeless, said Fran Geisler, an administrative assistant with the Salvation Army.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies homeless North Dakotans as one of three types.
The first type includes people who are currently homeless. These people currently have no roofs over their heads at night. They could be living out of cars or out on the street.
This summer, 24 people who were living in their cars in parking lots at Walmart or the Buffalo City Mall came to speak with David Klein, director of the Stutsman County Housing Authority, Klein said.
Just on Wednesday and Thursday, three homeless people visited with Jessica Dahlager, a case manager for the seriously mentally-ill homeless at South Central Human Service Center.
Lt. Teresa Brecto of the Salvation Army said she recently helped three people with money for gas and travel expenses so they could get to a city like Fargo or Bismarck with labor-ready employment.
These are the people many often think of when they think of the homeless — living on the streets with nowhere to go, Klein said.
The second homeless classification from HUD is those who are at risk of becoming homeless.
“There are a lot of people that just happen to be one bad circumstance away from losing things,” Klein said.
A crisis could be a major car repair, a serious health care cost or simply having to decide whether to pay for utilities or food. Brecto said a crisis is considered anything out of the ordinary.
The third type of homeless in HUD’s classification system is those who are considered hidden homeless.
This is the hardest type to classify because these people typically stay on a couch or the floor in one place and move on to other places after a while.
During the last seven months, 124 people considered homeless have sought assistance from the Salvation Army, Brecto said.
Between August 2010 and August 2011, Dahlager saw the number of people who came to her for assistance increase by 200 to 300 percent.
“They are people that are already established in Jamestown and surrounding communities,” Geisler said. “ … yes, we have homelessness in North Dakota and in Jamestown, too.”
But each case of homelessness is different, Klein said. That’s why fighting it can be so difficult.
On the forefront is educating people so they don’t put themselves in difficult situations, he said.
Both the Salvation Army and Community Action offer courses to help people balance their wages or fixed incomes.
However, Brecto said some people with fixed incomes feel too proud or self-sufficient to seek help.
Homelessness can also be related to medical or mental issues — which classes can’t necessarily help.
Once people are without a home, helping them find the best resources is also important, Geisler said.
“We have this information leaflet for anyone that comes in and does not know the resources of this community,” she said.
That includes everything from veterans’ resources to employment opportunities with Job Service North Dakota.
Networking is how these individuals and the dozen or so agencies that make up the Community Awareness Coalition best operate, Geisler said.
More affordable housing would help reduce the number of homeless here, Klein said.
He currently has a waiting list of 60 families seeking affordable housing in Stutsman County.
“Locally it can still be several months,” he said of the wait. “If outside of Stutsman County, it could be a long time — it could be years.”
Another problem is that developers generally stay away from low-income/ affordable housing because they make less money from tenants.
Brecto said transitional housing where people have a place to stay for 90 days while they work their problems out, become stable and find employment, is a possible solution.
But realistically, there is no single answer to homelessness, Klein said.
“It is very tough to just say we can build shelters to take care of the situation or provide all of these services,” he said. “There has to be a support system.”
He did say that people can help by making donations to food pantries or volunteering time with a group like the Salvation Army or Community Action.
Brecto and Geisler said people who want to make sure their donations go to a specific area just have to write that need on the memo line and the donation will be used for that goal.
Even donations to the Salvation Army Thrift Store for basic necessities like silverware help. The lack of furniture is an issue.
But Geisler also said education and awareness are pivotal to the fight against homelessness.
“It’s always better to prevent instead of waiting until it’s too late,” she said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org