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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 01 2010

Cooper House hopes to break cycle of homelessness

Cooper House, an apartment building for Fargo’s chronically homeless, will have a grand opening ceremony Thursday.

The event is from 2 to 4 p.m. at the $3.8 million, four-story complex at 414 11th St. N.

The 10 one-bedroom and 32 efficiency apartments – and the services and nursing care that will be available at the site – follow the “housing first” model of breaking the cycle of homelessness.

It’s a model that’s been proven successful around the country, said Fargo Senior Planner Dan Mahli.

A 2006 survey found 600 people are homeless on any given night in Fargo – about a third of them are chronically homeless, Mahli said.

Due to drug, alcohol, mental health or other issues, they may move from shelter to shelter and often must be treated in detox facilities or emergency rooms or are sent to jail. Those costs can be enormous, he said.

“It really isn’t free to do anything,” Mahli said. “This is cost-effective, responsible. It’s not just the right thing to do.”

Michael Carbone, director of the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, said Cooper House will provide a tremendous benefit.

“Everyone needs shelter. Everyone needs food. You need a place to call home, and then you can start working on your higher issues,” he said.

“For this type of housing, the typical systemwide savings are about $16,000” per year per apartment, Carbone said.

City Commissioner Brad Wimmer said the city’s residents have become more aware of the need to help the homeless.

“We know it’s a huge demand that we’re not meeting,” he said.

Nearly all of the tenants have been chosen, said Lynn Fundingsland, executive director of the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Fundingsland said the move-in will come in stages, with perhaps 10 people on opening day and five a week thereafter so staff and residents can get used to each other.

The apartments are fully furnished down to linens and pots and pans, thanks to donations by 50 individuals and companies, Fundingsland said.

“The community has really stepped up to contribute over there,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583