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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 13 2013

Increase in metro-area homelessness especially dramatic in Fargo

FARGO – Homelessness has increased in Fargo-Moorhead, according to the 2012 Wilder Survey of Homelessness released Friday.

A total of 874 people were surveyed Oct. 25, 2012, in the snapshot survey: 624 in Fargo and 250 in Moorhead.

The increase in homelessness between 2000 and 2012 is especially dramatic in Fargo.

In the latest survey taken in shelters, transitional housing areas and other locations, there were 347 homeless men in Fargo last October, compared with 109 in 2000. There were 173 women counted as homeless in 2012, compared with 44 in 2000, and there were 104 homeless teens and children in 2012, compared with 46 in 2000.

Moorhead homeless numbers are up compared with 2000, but the subgroup numbers have stabilized or even declined in recent years.

There were 120 homeless men found in Moorhead in 2012, compared with 66 in 2000. But the 2012 number is down from 2009, when there were 134 homeless men counted.

Moorhead had 64 homeless women last fall, compared with 17 in 2000. There were 66 homeless teens and children last fall, compared with 30 in 2000.

Greg Owen, a senior research manager at Wilder Research, said 26 percent of the homeless women in Fargo and 35 percent in Moorhead fled their homes due to abuse. About 30 percent of the women reported being attacked or beaten while they were homeless, Owen said.

In 2012, men made up the bulk of those who were homeless – 68 percent in Fargo and 62 percent in Moorhead.

The percentage of people homeless longer than a year is up in both cities from 2000 to 2012, the survey found. In Fargo, the percentage rose from 34 percent to 47 percent; in Moorhead, it rose from 31 percent to 57 percent.

Health issues

The percentage of homeless adults reporting serious mental health problems increased in both cities since 2000.

In Fargo, 38 percent reported serious mental health issues in 2000 and 44 percent in 2012. In Moorhead, the number rose from 35 percent to 50 percent.

Homeless adults in Fargo were more likely to report they had chemical dependency problems, 43 percent, than those in Moorhead, 30 percent.

Chronic health problems, serious mental health issues, and substance abuse are issues dogging many of the homeless, and make it difficult for them to make and maintain the connections needed to become self-sufficient, Owen said.

Only 17 percent of the homeless in Fargo and 16 percent of the homeless in Moorhead did not report coping with those major issues, he said.

In addition, 35 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women reported being abused or neglected as children, Owen said.

The homeless population also contains a disproportionate number of people of color.

American Indians, who account for 18 percent of the homeless in Fargo and 27 percent in Moorhead, make up 1 percent of the general population.

Less than 10 percent of North Dakota’s population and less than 15 percent of Minnesota’s is made up of people of color. But people of color make up 35 percent of Fargo’s homeless and 50 percent of Moorhead’s, the survey found.

Military veterans make up a quarter of all homeless people in Fargo and about 12 percent in Moorhead. About 32 percent of the homeless men in Fargo and 20 percent of homeless men in Moorhead were veterans, the survey found.

More of the area’s homeless are also sleeping outdoors when shelters are full.

In 2009, less than 20 percent of the homeless slept outside when there were no shelter beds. By 2012, that had increased to 40 percent, Owen said.

Owen said the survey is an undercount of homelessness in the F-M area because it’s hard to find all of those who are homeless. He said that’s very true of teens, many of whom couch-surf with friends, sleep outside or shelter in abandoned buildings.

Unaccompanied minors make up about 8 percent of the area’s homeless population, the survey found. Altogether, there were seven male and 10 female unaccompanied minors ages 14 to 17, and 29 males and 38 women ages 18 to 21 in the F-M survey.

About 44 percent of the homeless teen or young adult females reported having been pregnant.

Owen said a quarter of the adults surveyed reported experiencing their first episode of homelessness as a child.

He said the nation is at risk of creating a generation of children who will only know growing up in shelters, adding that the recession that gripped the nation in 2007 and 2008 reversed gains against chronic homelessness.

“We have not gotten past all the impacts of that recession,” Owen said. “There’s still not enough affordable housing.”

At the same time, he praised efforts by F-M area churches to provide emergency shelter when local homeless shelters are full.

The Wilder Research survey is done every three years in the metro area, and is unique in that unlike statewide surveys done for the state of Minnesota, it focuses solely on the F-M metro area, adding North Dakota numbers to the mix.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583