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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 31 2012

Churches United helping homeless make a home

MOORHEAD – Four weeks ago, James Hagler moved into Churches United for the Homeless.

On Friday, the 42-year-old was using time between his two jobs to move into a Fargo apartment with a load of furniture.

For the former Atlanta-area resident, drawn to the Fargo area by its booming economy, it was another step toward a dream of one day owning his own clothing store.

“When I got here, I didn’t want to stay” at the shelter, Hagler said, as he prepared to load a bed, couch, chair and other household items into a pickup and trailer.

“Anytime someone’s got a hand, got a hand out to help, you take it!” he said.

Hagler is one of seven individuals or families moving this weekend out of Churches United, or moving from small apartments to nicer digs, said Steve Anderson, donation and volunteer coordinator. Normally, it’s just one or two groups.

Using the basement storage space of the former furniture store, Churches United has created a free thrift store that includes household items such as mattresses, couches, chairs and televisions.

“It’s a nice thing. They come here with nothing. It’s a good way to get ’em going,” Anderson said.

On Thursday, he helped a husband and wife who were former shelter residents with the furniture for a two-bedroom apartment. Now, the couple’s two children can live with them again.

Anderson said many of the people moving out of the shelter have dealt with addictions or mental illness. Some have fled domestic abuse.

Others, like Hagler, were drawn to the area in the hope of getting a job and getting back on their feet, Anderson said.

He doesn’t mind scrounging up furniture and a sore back now and then if it helps someone settle into their own place.

“It’s a good warm feeling” helping the residents move, Anderson said. “I never have a problem sleeping at night.”

Finding apartments for those at Churches United can be difficult, Executive Director Jane Alexander said. Many landlords won’t work with someone with a felony record, she said.

For many at the shelter, their credit ratings are too low to be approved by some landlords, she said. Others may have been evicted for failing to pay rent or other offenses, Alexander said.

Ann Leuthard, the shelter’s support services coordinator, said the area’s homeless population would see a big drop if more landlords believed in second chances.

“There’s only the rare few landlords that say people deserve a second chance,” Leuthard said. “They are the diamonds.”

A pilot program called Coordinated Assessment helps shelter residents get on housing waiting lists earlier than in the past, Alexander said.

And people with mental health or substance abuse issues are guided toward treatment, she said.

“The moving out is the exciting part. That’s really fun for people,” Alexander said.

For his part, with the trailer and pickup loaded with furniture, Hagler looked happy and ready to head to his apartment.

“This is a place I want to plant my feet,” Hagler said. “It feels good. I’m lovin’ it.”

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