The City Council acted last week to improve the downtown area -- and the lives of homeless people.

Hearty congratulations all around!

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The action involves two projects. Both deal with housing and both involve federal funding. Otherwise, they are unrelated.

Council members voted to use $2 million to build apartments for chronically homeless people.

"This is really a matter of social conscience," as Kate Kenna, director of the Northeast Human Service Center pointed out.

The apartments will provide stable living arrangements for chronically homeless people. It's hard for those of us who aren't affected to imagine how important that will be for those who are affected by homelessness.

The project is good for the rest of us, too. Many homeless people have mental health issues, and apartments will mean they can live independently, without being hospitalized at public expense.

Some people might doubt the extent of homelessness in Grand Forks. They might diminish the effects of homelessness.

The best advice for those people is to visit Northlands Rescue Mission, which provides group housing for homeless people. The mission is full.

Clearly, a long-term solution is needed, and the City Council has moved to provide one.

The second housing project would provide apartments and townhomes on the site of the Civic Auditorium.

The auditorium would be demolished, itself a cause for celebration.

The project will bring additional residents downtown, adding to the vitality of the downtown area. More residents mean more businesses and more convenient services.

The apartments and townhomes will be financed with a mix of public and private money. The city will contribute land as well as cash. Private financing will complete the deal.

These projects together speak eloquently about Grand Forks. The city is growing up -- not just bigger but more vibrant and more caring. This maturity distinguishes Grand Forks, especially when seen against the backdrop of the disastrous flood of 1997.