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Dave Olson, Published September 24 2012

Human rights official says ND homelessness is priority issue

FARGO – The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition is working on a new campaign and its slogan says it all: Every North Dakotan deserves a home.

But not every North Dakotan has a home and state law isn’t helping, said Lillian Jones, a member of the board of directors of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition.

State law is biased toward landlords and leaves room for discrimination on a number of fronts, including accessibility, Jones said Monday before the North Dakota State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

She said the state human rights coalition is embarking on a three-year campaign to raise awareness of housing and other issues. Efforts include creating public service announcements and making the organization’s website more user friendly.

Monday’s meeting, the first of a series of meetings the advisory committee has scheduled across the state, saw tearful testimony from a young woman who said she was denied an apartment even though she had secured a voucher for rental assistance.

Cheryl Bergian, a member of the advisory committee, said the incident was a clear violation of housing rules and she encouraged the woman to file a complaint, stating it would help others avoid the same treatment. The advisory committee also heard from a member of the Fargo Police Department whose primary duty is helping people from foreign cultures acclimate to life in the United States.

Cristie Jacobsen said her job as cultural liaison includes teaching newcomers about how the law enforcement and criminal justice systems work.

She said she also strives to convince refugees and others that police are a resource for residents and not a threat, as they might be in some of the countries refugees are from.

Jacobsen said she is aware of a mindset some people hold that more immigration equals more crime, but statistics show that “is absolutely not true, not locally, anyway.” She said Fargo is experiencing record-low crime rates even as refugee numbers climb.

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