Official: The allure of jobs attract homelessGRAND FORKS — Alan Davis, 41, is a man of few words.
By: Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, The Jamestown Sun
GRAND FORKS — Alan Davis, 41, is a man of few words.
The ones he does use to tell his story echo the frustrations and hardships he and other residents of the Northlands Rescue Mission face in Grand Forks.
A former resident of Bagley, Minn., Davis came to Grand Forks in October 2011 looking for work as a truck driver or a cook.
A heart condition and spontaneous lung collapse have kept him from getting a job, he said. “There’s no way I could pass a physical.”
Davis is part of a growing number of people coming to North Dakota after hearing of job opportunities only to find unexpected difficulties and eventually become homeless.
In 2007, the state Coalition for Homeless People projected the total number of homeless in the state to be about 870. Four years later that number had grown to 1,094.
The increase has not gone unnoticed in Grand Forks.
Davis shares a dormitory with 28 other men at the mission, which has housed an average of 130 people a night these past few weeks, according to Executive Director David Sena. The average number of individuals staying the night in 2011 was 107 but grew to 122 per night in 2012.
Those who don’t receive a bed to sleep in are placed in an overflow room, Sena said. If that fills up, individuals are allowed to sleep in the mission’s lobby.
The increase in homelessness in Grand Forks and across North Dakota can be attributed to a growing number of people seeking oil boom jobs, according to Michael Carbone, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless People.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming into the state,” he said. “Forty percent of the homeless population in North Dakota is from out of state.”
At the mission, the number of out-of-state residents is 62 percent.
Carbone said most of these people are victims of an affordable housing shortage. “They’re being priced out of the market,” he said.
The housing shortage originated in North Dakota’s Oil Patch but has spread eastward and reached western Minnesota, Carbone added.
Sena said he’s received calls from people in places such as Texas, California and Florida who say they want to come to North Dakota for work.
“We tell them not to come and explain the reasons why,” he said. Besides limited housing, he said, many don’t have the skill set required for jobs and could end up unemployed in addition to being homeless.
People also arrive in the eastern half of the state only to learn the oil jobs are in the west and don’t have money left to travel there, he said.
Light the way
The uptick in homeless numbers comes near the half-way point of Grand Forks’ Lighting the Way Home Plan — a 10-year plan focused on ending long-term homelessness in Grand Forks.
“We needed to provide an active and ongoing safety net,” Mayor Mike Brown said.
On any given night, 172 people were homeless in Grand Forks during 2011, according to the state coalition. That number reflects a 39 percent increase in the number of homeless persons from 2007 — the year Brown called for the plan’s creation.
Securing permanent funding to complete goals included in the plan has proved challenging, according to city staff. The creation of the Project Connect event is one goal the city has reached.
The annual event serves as a one-stop shop for those seeking services that are at risk of becoming or are already homeless. It recently marked its fourth year in Grand Forks.
“If nothing else but that (Project Connect) came out of the plan, it would be fabulous,” said Meredith Richards, the city’s community development manager.
Richards estimates 550 people have been served by the event, which also provides free haircuts, blood pressure checks and clothing to attendees.
Though incoming jobseekers add an unexpected dynamic to the plan’s execution, its focus remains assisting those who are habitually homeless, according to Richards.
“Ending homelessness is utopian,” she said. “Ending chronic homelessness is the goal of the plan.”
Chronic homelessness is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as an unaccompanied homeless person with a disabling condition. They must have been homeless for one year or more or experienced four or more episodes of homelessness in the last three years.
About 11 percent of Grand Forks’ homeless population is considered chronic. Nationwide that number is slightly less at 10 percent.
However, this group consumes more than 50 percent of resources directed toward homelessness, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Individuals considered chronically homeless are frequent users of public resources such as emergency medical care, psychiatric treatment and detox facilities.
Emergency hospital visits and police visits will cost the community more in the long run than paying rent for these individuals each month, Richards said.
Solving chronic homelessness in Grand Forks isn’t as simple as building another shelter, Instead it involves more than two dozen action steps, according to the city’s 10-year plan.
It will take a community effort and would require the collaboration of groups to fill gaps where people are falling through in terms of receiving help and staying in a home, according to Richards.
Removing the emergency situation is one way to improve the lives of Grand Forks’ homeless, according to Peggy Kurtz, a community development program compliance officer.
“Take away that emergency situation (by providing housing) and that safety net allows them to make changes,” she said.
These changes could include becoming sober, seeking treatment for a mental health condition or getting a job.
Building a social detox facility in Grand Forks also is part plan’s attempt to make treatment services more accessible to homeless individuals.
Sena and Richards say the community needs a facility, but paying for construction and upkeep would be a challenge. Finding a location also would be difficult.
“It’s not the ideal neighbor for most people,” Richards said.
A city committee has researched the possibility of creating a formal homeless coalition, but efforts to obtain funding for the potential nonprofit organization have not been successful.