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Dave Olson, Published October 29 2010

Fargo-Moorhead homelessness rises 29 percent in 3 years

A report unveiled Thursday shows the number of homeless individuals in the Fargo-Moorhead area grew by 29 percent between October 2009 and 2006, when a similar spot-check was done.

A survey conducted on a single day in October 2009 found the homeless population in Fargo and Moorhead was 763, compared to 587 in 2006 and 393 in 2003.

“We know that 2008 was a game changer for a lot of people, and it was also true for the homeless,” said Greg Owen of Wilder Research, a St. Paul-based organization that began collecting homeless data in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 2000.

Owen said 6 percent of respondents in the 2006 survey said they were homeless because of a foreclosure.

In October 2009, 12 percent of survey respondents said they were homeless due to a foreclosure, according to Owen, who said respondents typically had not owned homes but rented from landlords who experienced foreclosures, and the renters subsequently could not find other available housing.

Owen said statewide surveys done in Minnesota indicated the number of homeless persons 18 to 21 grew by about 57 percent between 2006 and 2009.

“This large increase in the younger part of the population also suggests to us that the economic downturn had a significant impact,” Owen said.

Laurie Baker, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons, described the recent survey findings in the F-M area as scary, but said there are “bright lights” in the community that give reasons for hope.

She said the Gladys Ray Shelter in Fargo is making a difference in the lives of many.

“Some of the most long-term homeless folks now see it as a safe place, and that takes many, many months to develop that kind of trust,” Baker said.

The opening of Cooper House in Fargo and Gateway Gardens in Moorhead, both of which provide long-term housing for people who have experienced chronic homelessness, are examples of “great steps forward,” Baker said.

Owen said when surveys began 10 years ago, a larger percentage of the homeless population possessed the capacity to break the cycle of chronic homelessness than is the case today.

“If you look back at the year 2000, those that were coming into the system were able to get out more easily and many who could get out have gotten out,” Owen said.

“What is left in the homeless population today is more people with mental health problems,” Owen said, adding that in the Fargo-Moorhead area, 45 percent of respondents to the most recent survey indicated a mental health issue.

Ten years ago, 20 percent of the homeless population had a serious or persistent mental health problem, Owen said.

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