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Heidi Shaffer, Published June 09 2009

FEWER PLACES TO TURN: More homeless families facing closed doors

Kim Greene and her two children came to live in Moorhead’s Churches United for the Homeless in April.

Her 2-year-old son, A.J., was diagnosed with autism, and Greene was unable to find a day care that catered to his special needs.

With no day care, Greene, a certified nursing assistant, must stay home with her children, leaving her unable to support her family.

“It wasn’t like I didn’t want to get out there and work, but I didn’t have any child care,” Greene said.

An increase in families like Greene’s in need of shelter has forced Churches United to turn some families away recently.

Though the city increased the shelter’s capacity from 58 to 65 beds in December, only seven rooms are set aside for families. With these rooms full, Churches United turns away five to 10 families a week, said executive director Durk Thompson.

In 2008, the shelter turned away 1,199 family members. So far this year they are on target to double that number, with more than 2,500 expected by the end of 2009.

And while a difficult economy usually contributes to more people without jobs and homes, Thompson said the reasons for a family staying at Churches United varies by case.

“Every story is a different story, and everyone is here for a different reason,” Thompson said. “It’s not just mental illness or the economy, domestic abuse. It can be any number of things.”

Further complicating the increased need for housing, Churches United is the only area shelter that takes entire families.

Other shelters are designed for just men or women and children, forcing families to either split up or wait for an opening at Churches United.

The average stay at Churches United for a family is less than two months, Thompson said. A case manager works with each family to help them find a place to live as well as jobs.

“I have a family who is moving out today who has been here for 45 days. He has been working every day to save up for the deposit,” Thompson said Monday.

Other area shelters also have seen an increase in the number of people coming in for meals.

The New Life Center in Fargo has seen a 15 percent increase in the number of meals served compared to this time last year.

“It isn’t just the homeless people in the shelter that are receiving meals, but needy people in the community as well,” said Dan Danielson, executive director of the New Life Center.

More families with children tend to come for meals during the summer months. “Summer is our biggest increase because there is no school lunch,” Thompson said.

While the shelters can increase the number of meals they serve, it’s more difficult to make room for more housing because of zoning regulations.

Churches United has plans to convert another room to house more families or women. If the facility makes room for more families, it will likely have to turn away homeless individuals.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” Thompson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 235-7711