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By Dave Olson, Published June 17 2009

Homelessness forum held in Moorhead

Much has been done to help homeless individuals in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but no matter how much progress is made, there is always more to be done.

That’s one message that came out of a forum on homelessness on Tuesday night at the Moorhead Public Library.

“We’re always going to have homeless people,” said Darcy Cohrs, who will manage Cooper House, a 43-unit apartment complex under construction in Fargo that will offer permanent housing for the chronically homeless.

Cohrs said some may be tempted to think Cooper House and a similar apartment complex planned in Moorhead will meet the need, but that is not the case.

“We’re going to have to build more places,” said Cohrs, adding that the Cooper House, which is to open some time next year, already has a waiting list.

Tuesday’s forum, organized by the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley, was an effort to gauge how well the region addresses homelessness.

Susan Helgeland, a forum organizer, said Cooper House is a bright spot, as is the Gladys Ray Shelter in Fargo, which, unlike many homeless shelters in the area, accepts people who have been drinking.

“That (shelter) is a huge thing to get done in Fargo,” said Helgeland, executive director of Mental Health America of North Dakota.

The Gladys Ray Shelter, which opened in March 2008, served 447 people its first year, said Jan Eliassen, the shelter’s director.

Providing people with a stable place to stay, even if they are grappling with chemical dependency issues, helps to foster a willingness on the part of some to access services, Eliassen said.

“Relationships motivate behavior,” she said. If individuals are not given a chance to make connections, as they do at the shelter, she said, “you may not have a reason to make those changes.”

When someone moves from a shelter to a place like Cooper House, they have even more reasons to alter long-held patterns of behavior, Eliassen said.

“People are much more likely to take a look at what their other needs are. They’re more likely to take fewer risks,” she said.

Mike Carbone, executive director of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, said the poignancy of homelessness can get missed when the subject is discussed because there are so many agencies and organizations addressing different facets of the problem.

He said mental health and chemical dependency issues are major factors in homelessness, but so are things such as domestic violence and lack of access to child care.

“We cannot lose sight of the fact this is an individual problem for individual human beings,” said Carbone.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555