714 8th St. S., Moorhead, MN
Homelessness in Fargo-Moorhead
Homelessness is at an all-time high in the Fargo-Moorhead community. In fact, there were 874 people who were homeless in October 2012 which is up 15% from 2009 (Wilder Research, 2012). Many suffer from chronic health conditions, mental illness, substance abuse, limited or no social support network, very low or no income, criminal convictions, abuse, and violence. In addition, men make up the majority of the homeless population, and people of color are disproportionately represented. These statistics are aligned with ours at the shelter, and our goal is to provide basic needs and connect people to resources to ultimately get people into appropriate housing that they will be able to sustain long-term.
This community faces unique challenges, as Fargo-Moorhead crosses city, county, and state lines, we are seeing an influx of people coming from across the country seeking employment in the oil fields, our vacancy rate for apartments is extremely low, and there is a lack of affordable housing in the area. With this, the cities of Fargo and Moorhead and both North Dakota and Minnesota state agencies feel that it is necessary to address the issue of homelessness because it saves money and is the right thing to do for our fellow human beings. Specifically, the City of Fargo’s 10 Year Plan to End Long-Term Homelessness focuses on permanent supportive housing, coordination and collaboration for effective service delivery, and prevention (Going Home, 2006). Ultimately, the FMDDHH’s current strategic plan is aligned with local plans, addressing how to efficiently and effectively utilize resources, train and develop staff to enhance relationships with those we serve, and build networks with community providers to bridge gaps in services.
The emergency shelter has the capacity to house 13 men who are homeless. We are unique because we operate out of a house and try to maintain a home-like environment for those who walk through our doors. Recognizing that the people we serve have experienced a tremendous amount of trauma, homelessness is traumatic, and many people are coming to us straight from the streets, we allow our guests time to adjust to the shelter environment and our program. After this time, we ask that they set goals for themselves with a housing plan being one of them. Each guest meets with our leadership staff who does an assessment, called the VI-SPDAT, to determine acuity for housing placement. Barriers are addressed at this time, and we visit with guests about increasing income, social support, issues relating to physical health, mental illness, and chemical dependency, transportation needs, and financial or legal concerns. We offer a holistic approach and try to meet people where they are at by using motivational interviewing techniques and practicing trauma informed care. We hold guests accountable by having them fill out an extension worksheet every other week, where they discuss progress made towards their goals, and this is then reviewed as a staff team. At this time, we provide positive reinforcement, offer suggestions, and address concerns. We do not have a set length of stay; rather, the guest has to be willing to set a housing goal and show overall progress. We have found this approach to be very effective, as the individual is driving his success while we keep that person on track by providing support and resources. In addition, we offer visitor services, where men, women, and children experiencing homelessness can come Monday - Friday and weekends (for showers only) from 10a - 5p to take showers, do laundry, and receive other support services. From 2010 - 2014, the number of visits increased an astounding 541%. Based on the philosophy of Dorothy Day, we believe that everyone has worth and deserves to have their basic needs met.
Specific to our work at the emergency shelter, we work with other homeless service providers to stabilize physical and mental health, increase income, and find appropriate housing for the men we serve. With this, many providers do outreach at our facility. For example, Homeless Health provides healthcare and education to our guests, the housing authorities screen our folks for housing assistance, and the Veterans Affairs provides case management and resources to the veterans that stay with us. We recognize that our role as an emergency shelter is to provide basic needs, but we also know that housing is the key to ending homelessness; therefore, shelters become the avenue in which relationships are built and connections to other services are made.
The Fargo-Moorhead community, in collaboration with the North Dakota and West Central Continuum of Cares, has been implementing the coordinated assessment, referral, and evaluation system (CARES), and we have been a site for using the assessment tool, VI-SPDAT, to determine acuity for housing placement. For the past several years, the six shelters in the area have been doing an excellent job communicating and collaborating with each other to ensure that homeless people have a safe place to sleep in a shelter that is most appropriate for them and their needs. Coordinated assessment has fostered collaboration across many areas of homeless services, including: shelters, housing authorities, community action agencies, veterans affairs, social services, mental health facilities, and hospitals. The purpose is to provide access to services, determine acuity, make appropriate referrals in a timely manner, identify ongoing needs and barriers, and provide supportive services as needed. As a community, we are starting to see patterns and beginning to identify types of housing needs (i.e. transitional housing, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing) based on assessment scores. This information and data evaluation will help inform future affordable housing decisions in our community. What is more, CARES allows us to provide services more efficiently and effectively as a community which will be a huge cost savings in terms of resources and emergency services used.