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Group seeks help for area's homeless

As Bemidji recently rousted a homeless encampment, evicting three, the issue of long-term homelessness is being tackled by a local agency reaching out to others in the region.

The hope is that the homeless population will not become one of squatters or tent cities.

Mahube Community Council, Inc., has applied for a $594,000 grant in Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program funding for 2012-13 to serve the homeless population. That was a 10 percent increase over the 2009-11 biennium monies awarded by FHPAP, Mahube director Leah Pigatti told the Hubbard County Board last week.

The grant aims to "provide supportive services for up to 2,097 households consisting of single adults, unaccompanied youth and families with children experiencing long-term homelessness," the agency stated.

Pigatti and Marcia Otte told the board the grant pays for caseworker salaries to manage the homeless population's cases.

Some ongoing rental assistance is necessary, the women said, but the goal is to establish some permanent income source.

Since 80 percent of the homeless population has mental health issues, Pigatti said it makes sense to get them enrolled in Social Security's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

SSI pays benefits to disabled adults and children from low-income home.

Pigatti and Otte said there are numerous barriers to obtaining stable housing, and those issues need addressing.

In addition to obtaining mental illness assistance, households will get help with abuse, neglect, chemical dependency, employment and chronic health issues.

The Mahube grant will help 622 households with direct service dollars, the women explained.

But emergency or homeless shelters in the region are sparse, so the grant money often has to pay for a first month rent and deposit.

Mahube is working with agencies that serve Cass, Beltrami, Red Lake, Polk, Clearwater and Pennington counties. Another partnership with Ottertail Wadena Community Action Agency produced a $30,000 bonus to help victims of the 2010 Wadena tornado, in which dozens of homes were destroyed.

People who get behind on rent and mortgage can be helped.

But Hubbard County commissioner Lyle Robinson questioned why the program couldn't reach further, to help homeowners defray their tax bills.

"Homeowners are losing their homes because they can't pay the taxes," he said.

"We try to help people avoid foreclosure but they usually come to us too late," Pigatti said.

Tax help isn't available, however.

"We believe that we will see an increase in requests for mortgage foreclosure prevention assistance due to the fact that many of our low income clients are involved with predatory lenders and the continued depressed economic climate," Mahube stated in its work plan.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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