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Charly Haley, Published October 25 2012

Volunteers canvass F-M for homeless survey

MOORHEAD – Debra Eggert appreciated being counted.

The 45-year-old has been homeless off and on for about a year, she said, and has been at Churches United homeless shelter since early September.

On Thursday, she participated in the 2012 Wilder Survey of Homelessness.

“I think the Wilder survey was a really good idea, as far as the questions, the concern about how you got to be where you are, and just to be counted,” Eggert said.

Eggert took the volunteer-administered survey at Churches United, but it was also being conducted in Fargo at Gladys Ray Shelter, New Life Center, Salvation Army and as part of an outreach event for the homeless at the Fargodome.

There was also a survey team looking for homeless people on the street. Altogether, more than 200 volunteers worked from 4 a.m. to midnight.

The surveying was organized by the F-M Coalition for Homeless Persons. It is a Minnesota statewide study, but the F-M coalition contracts with the Wilder Research Institute to also include a survey of Fargo and Moorhead.

Laurie Baker, executive director of the F-M coalition, said Thursday was very busy due to Fargo-Moorhead’s increased homeless population.

The outreach team did 20 interviews within the first hour, she said.

More than 500 people attended the 11th Project Community Connect at the Fargodome, where they were directed to different services and given immediate resources like food, clothes and haircuts. Out of those 500 people, 200 were surveyed, Baker said.

Veterans Administration officials were also at the Fargodome, because veterans make up about a third of the area’s homeless population, according to a news release from the F-M homeless coalition.

There were more people at Project Community Connect this year than ever before, Baker said, and the volunteers ran out of all of their supplies. But Baker doesn’t want to call the event a “success.”

“ ‘Effective,’ maybe,” she said. “It’s not a success when there are this many people without homes.”

The busy day was somewhat expected, Baker said, because the F-M homeless shelters have been reporting increases in the amount of people turned away.

“The survey is going to tell us more,” Baker said, “but the general consensus is that people gravitate toward opportunity, and when we’re saying North Dakota has jobs, (people come here). It’s the other side of prosperity, I guess, and we have to address it with compassion.”

The Wilder data will be released late in the summer, Baker said. The survey is conducted every three years and is used by organizations that make policies or provide services or funds for homeless people, she said.

Some of the people surveyed were reluctant. John Roberts, director of shelter operations at Churches United, said he surveyed a woman who didn’t want to talk with the volunteers because she didn’t know them.

However, others were happy to participate.

“I thought it was really neat,” said Todd Rau, 46.

He’s been staying at Churches United for about 2½ weeks and said the shelter has been “helping me get all straightened out.”

“It’s a really neat place. If you help yourself, they’ll help you,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311

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