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Published October 10 2013

Editorial: F-M can do better for homeless

It should be difficult for civic leaders to reconcile chronic homelessness in Fargo-Moorhead with the carefully cultivated image of a culturally vibrant and economically strong urban center. Despite the sometimes over-the-top promotion of Fargo’s “cool” downtown and emergence of a newly polished vision for Moorhead’s downtown, the cities fall short of providing affordable, accessible housing for a significant segment of the population.

A recent respected survey counted about 1,000 homeless people in the metro. That’s a small number compared to a population approaching 200,000. But the survey’s finding is a snapshot, not a comprehensive assessment of the homelessness picture. Consider, for example, that homeless shelters are nearly full all the time, even in summer, when in the past they might not have been full. Operators of shelters routinely turn people away – another indication that there are more homeless people out there than reflected in a snapshot count. It’s a fluid population that moves and often is uncounted when shelter is not readily available.

Limited shelter capacity is one factor in the homelessness equation. The other is affordable housing. There has never been enough emphasis on strategies for building affordable housing. Incentives are few and inadequate. The strong economy here stimulates all sorts of residential construction, but most (if not all) are traditional high-end or middle-income apartments and single homes. There are some low-income apartment buildings in the cities, but they are filled. There is not enough capacity to accommodate the need.

Homelessness and full shelters are among the fallout. Homeless people, many of whom are the working poor, can’t break out of the cycle without an affordable apartment.

It’s great to have ESPN “GameDay” showcase downtown Fargo. It’s visionary to have Moorhead leaders gearing up to revitalize downtown. It’s amazing to routinely find Fargo-Moorhead at the top of quality-of-life national rankings. It’s extraordinary for F-M to consistently boast the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

A metro area of such vitality and wealth, such pride and vision, should be able to do better for people in real need.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.