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Patrick Springer, Published October 23 2009

Fargo event connects homeless with resources

Donald Arneson found himself homeless when he lost his job as an apartment caretaker.

For more than a month, he’s been sleeping outside while he searches for work – so far, just temporary jobs from a spot labor agency.

“This is a new experience for me,” the 57-year-old Fargo man said Thursday. He was one of more than 300 local homeless people who turned out for Project Homeless Connect at the Fargodome.

The event, held in tandem with a Veterans Affairs stand down, served more than 300 homeless people, said Rebeka Krueger, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons.

In Arneson’s case, he received help in getting a copy of his birth certificate, which he needs in applying for jobs.

Medical and dental services, haircuts, and various other forms of assistance, including help with finding education or jobs, legal services and housing were provided – in essence, a “one-stop” temporary service center.

Free bus rides were available to and from the Fargodome for the homeless.

The gathering also includes a new Wilder Center survey to estimate the local homeless population. The last count, three years ago, found there were 578 homeless people in Fargo-Moorhead and another 500 people at high risk of becoming homeless.

The latest snapshot estimate, taken in January, found a 33 percent rise in the homeless population from a year earlier.

The economic downturn is a factor in the increasing numbers of homeless, said Krueger, who added that the five local homeless shelters are often full.

At the Veterans Affairs stand down, 147 veterans were served, said Diana Hall, who oversees programs for homeless veterans. That compares to 80 last year.

“We’re seeing a pretty significant increase,” Hall said, noting that the weak economy plays a significant role. “Jobs can be hard to find, and rents are going up.”

Arneson knows that from experience. He moved to Fargo 10 years ago, when jobs were plentiful. Now, he carries all of his belongings in a knapsack.

Permanent jobs are scarce, but he hopes a temporary job someday will open the door to full-time employment. Arneson believes the job market could be improving, that a job is out there somewhere.

“I think it’s a matter of time,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522