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Without a home and nowhere to go

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Editor's note: As part of National Homeless Awareness Month, the Community Impact Coalition, a division of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties, provided the following local insights into the problem.

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Where do people in Douglas County go when they are homeless?

"I lost my job, and cannot afford the house payment. Where will my children and I live after our home is foreclosed?"

"My hours have been cut and I can't afford my rent."

"Where will I sleep tonight? Should I sleep in my car?"

More than 60 people in Douglas County identified themselves as homeless at the 2009 Project Community Connect hosted by the Community Impact Coalition. Many others are just a paycheck away from being without a place to call home.

Utility costs, medical expenses, job loss, and many other factors contribute to this growing issue. Housing issues are a factor locally.

According to the Douglas County Recorder's Office, there have been 79 completed foreclosure sheriff's sales in Douglas County since January 1, 2009 (through November 18, 2009).

This does not include initiated or pending sales, or instances where the home was turned back to the bank without a sheriff's sale. This number is up from 40 foreclosures in 2006.

The Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program, operated by the West Central Minnesota Communities Action, Inc., assisted 96 households in Douglas County with funds to prevent eviction and utility disconnections in the past year (July 1, 2008 - June 30, 2009).

This included assistance for rent, rental deposits, mortgage payments, electricity and heating costs.

This assistance was used as a last resort, meaning it was the only avenue for them to receive funds for these essential needs. This was an increase of more than 54 percent from the previous year.

LifeRight is a Christ-centered program helping men in need of housing and education. There is only room for 10 men to live there. They estimate turning away two people each week due to space issues alone.

WINGS Family Services reported turning away 57 families from transitional housing. These were families who met the criteria for homelessness, but there were no vacancies in transitional housing for them.

Douglas County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) provides subsidized housing in the form of Section 8 and public housing to assist tenants with their rent. The program tries to keep it so that tenants are not spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Their current waiting list for affordable housing is 292 families (584 total people). A total of 185 households were on the waiting list at the end of October 2007.

Please remember those around you who are struggling during this the holiday season. National Homeless Awareness Month is recognized during the month of November to remind us of those in our community, state, and nation facing homelessness and hunger during this time of abundant food, celebration and thanks.

Community Impact Coalition actively works to address complex social issues and bring about solutions to help local people struggling to meet their basic needs. The group meets monthly in Douglas County.

Douglas County Homeless to Housed (DCH2H) is an entity of the Community Impact Coalition, which meets the first Thursday of the month at 3 p.m. in the lower level of the Marion building. DCH2H strives to raise awareness about homelessness and works to end homelessness.

If you would like to know more about the work being done by the Community Impact Coalition, contact Jessica Boyer, United Way Community Impact Director, at (320) 763-4840.

THE PLIGHT OF HOMELESS

Here are some facts about those who are struggling to find a home in Douglas County. The information is provided through the Community Impact Coalition.

Douglas County does not have an emergency homeless shelter.

Two services in Douglas County - WINGS and the Douglas County HRA - work to house homeless and have more than 315 households on their waiting lists.

Those getting help through WINGS report an average income of $9,000 per year or $750 per month. The average annual income of those receiving Section 8 assistance through Douglas County HRA is $12,630. These salary amounts are well below the federal poverty guidelines of $14,570 for a family of two.

In Douglas County, there are individuals and families with no home. Those who qualify for services, such as rental assistance and transitional housing, are unable to access the help. As a result, they either sleep in their cars or some other place not intended for human habitation.

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