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Charly Haley, Published April 27 2013

Overflow for homeless in F-M up 65 percent over last winter

FARGO – With overflow homeless sheltering up 65 percent in Fargo-Moorhead this winter, shelter directors and volunteers are looking for a more permanent solution.

From December through March, an average of 46 people per night stayed in the overflow shelter beds at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead and New Life Center in Fargo or in the overflow sheltering program that places some potential shelter residents in area churches.

In the winter of 2011-12, overflow beds and the church program served 3,330 people, a number that spiked this past winter to 5,480, said John Roberts, director of Churches United.

Roberts said the 46-bed-a-night average this winter was larger than the peak count for overflow in 2010-11, when 44 people were in overflow one night – though Churches United, at the time, was the sole option for overflow sheltering in Fargo-Moorhead.

The increase is causing the local churches to plan for an even longer season of assisting overflow sheltering. Next year, church sheltering will be planned from mid-November to mid-April, said the Rev. Sue Koesterman of Elim Lutheran Church in Fargo.

New Life Center will provide overflow sheltering for men through April, assistant director Rob Swiers said.

Roberts said Churches United will continue overflow sheltering for women and families indefinitely.

But everyone agrees that shelters are a temporary solution to a problem that’s not going away.

“More long-term affordable housing solutions need to be developed,” with Fargo-Moorhead’s growing population, Koesterman said.

Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership has seen a 70 percent increase in applications for assistance since 2011, executive director Joe Pederson said. In 2012, more than 700 households applied for programs like utility or rent assistance, and Lakes and Prairies was only able to help about 200 of them, Pederson said.

“Lots of people are really struggling,” he said.

Many of Clay County Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s waiting lists for low-income housing have been full for a few years, said executive director Dara Lee. She guessed the situation was similar at other local housing authorities.

“None of us have enough resources to meet the demand,” she said.

Koesterman said representatives from local churches plan to meet for the first time in May to work on improving housing options, with the aim of reaching some solutions within three years.

The group will look at analyzing which demographics of homeless people have the greatest needs and fewest programs already available to them, Koesterman said. It will then look into applying for grants, how the churches can help and search for properties and funding.

“I think the three-year time frame for having permanent housing solutions in place is a realistic one,” Koesterman said.

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