By Zana Pommier
You’ve probably walked past a person in ripped clothing, holding a sign and asking for money. Maybe you looked the other way, or maybe you dropped them a dollar or two. Either way, you probably didn’t think of it much afterwards.
But what if the entire homeless population of Fargo-Moorhead approached you, asking for your help?
What if that group consisted of hundreds of people?
The fact is that while you’re spending an evening inside watching Netflix, approximately 760 people in the same community as you are wondering where their next meal is coming from.
Several area shelters and churches help give homeless people a place to stay, including the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality, which houses 10 male adults at one time.
“Many of the guys that come here are sleeping in their vehicles if they have one, doubled up with family and friends, or were living on the streets,” shelter director Sonja Ellner said.
Although the homeless population tends to grow every year, according to the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons, Fargo’s homeless population has more than doubled since 2000.
The average number of homeless men has grown from 109 to 347 per average night, while the average amount of homeless women has grown from 44 to 173 per night. Children have been affected as well, growing from 46 to 98 per night.
“Unfortunately, we have to turn people down everyday. What the community needs is more affordable housing,” Ellner said. “In the meantime, the Sheltering Churches project allows us to make sure that everyone is sheltered during the coldest months.”
The Moorhead City Council, however, voted unanimously to oppose housing for the homeless. This was partially due to unhappy neighbors of the potential apartment complex, as well as fear of added crime in the community.
The council, however, repealed the decision. Churches United for the Homeless, a local organization sheltering homeless members of the community, proposed the $6 million project. The project intends to go forward, and hopes to get state money to fund the project.
According to the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons, three-quarters of homeless adults have at least a high school degree or GED.
One-third of those interviewed the night of the survey had attended at least some college. 37 percent of the homeless adults questioned in Fargo reported having a job, and 28 percent in Moorhead reported the same.
For those who were not working, some of the most common reasons were physical health problems, mental health problems, transportation, and a lack of resources needed to look for work.
In addition to finding a place to live, some residents need help with other basic needs. The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality also has a food pantry for people below the poverty line.
“We see an average of 40 households every service day,” Ellner said. “More than 75 percent of the food we distribute is donated from community members and organizations. This includes food drives like the Boy Scouts’ ‘Scouting for Food,’ the U.S. Postal Service’s ‘Stamp Out Hunger,’ and ‘Fill the Dome.’
In addition to the pantry, community residents in need are welcome to use the shower and laundry services at the house.
“About 10 to 15 people use our shower and laundry services daily,” Ellner said. “This has increased 442% since 2010 when we had about 473 visits. In 2013, we had more than 2,500 visits, and we are on pace to exceed that this year. Many of these folks are sleeping outside or doubled up with family and friends.”
Students are encouraged to help the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality by volunteering at the food pantry and shelter, organizing product drives, or working on projects like updating the website and raising awareness.