A $725,000 Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP) grant application approved March 5 by the Hubbard County Board will continue the work that has been helping struggling families through the MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action Partnership since 2017.

Family Development Director Marcia Otte said the FHPAP grant provides resources for people who are struggling, explaining that many low-income families are only a paycheck away from homelessness.

"The Family Homelessness Prevention program is one of the few grants that prevents people from becoming homeless," she said. "That's really critical because it saves a lot of money if we can help someone who is a little behind in their rent catch up so they can maintain the housing they're in."

Grant funding assists with first month's rent, past due rent or mortgage payments, rent deposits and rental assistance. It can also help with utilities and car repairs.

Homelessness looks different here

In rural Minnesota, homeless people seldom live on the streets as is seen in some urban areas.

"Most likely, they are 'couch hopping' from family members to friends, without a home to call their own," Otte said. "It's called doubling up, and is recognized by the state of Minnesota as being homeless. And some of the people they're staying with can only keep them for a short amount of time or they could be putting their own housing in jeopardy. If you get a Section 8 voucher and have people staying with you who are not on the lease, it could be cause for termination of your lease."

The nearest homeless shelter is in Bemidji.

"We don't have access to shelters here," she said. "We have to work with motel vouchers.

Otte said affordable workforce housing is a critical need in all five counties served by the program.

The FHPAP program has helped 74 households in Hubbard County find safe, affordable housing also serves families in Wadena, Becker, Mahnomen and Otter Tail counties.

MAHUBE-OTWA's Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Advisory Committee includes a formerly homeless person and community partners from each area served.

Wages, child care and cars

Jobs that don't pay a living wage and the cost and availability of child care are two other factors that Otte said make it hard to keep up with rent or mortgage payments.

"We see people every day who are struggling," she said. "Child care, especially for infants and toddlers, is a big need in every one of our counties."

Other initiatives to help low-income residents in the region are also being explored.

"One of the things we're discussing is a loan program for people who need vehicles," she said. "We've had two revolving loan programs in the past, but people didn't pay the loans back and they ran out of money. New technology is available so that those who take out car loans won't be able to start their cars unless payments are current. That's just in the talking stages, but it definitely has possibilities."

Public transportation in rural Minnesota has limited hours and routes, so most people rely on their own vehicle to get to and from work.

Grant helped almost 400 households

Statistics from July 2017 through mid-December 2019 showed 215 households received assistance from the FHPAP grant to prevent homelessness and 144 households were helped to find and obtain housing.

In addition, 13 households received assistance with utilities, 11 households received short or medium-term assistance and five households obtained help with vehicle repairs.

These are some other examples of how the grant money has helped in the past two years:

• Assisted a family of five living in a relative's living room. One of the parents was going to school at a local college and the other was waiting for unemployment benefits due to a seasonal job. The household was able to find housing, but they could not come up with the money needed for deposit and rent ($1,565 total). MAHUBE-OTWA helped this family with the deposit to get into housing of their own that they could afford.

• Assisted a single parent who was in an unsafe relationship. The partner left and took a large amount of money, which caused the household to fall behind in mortgage payments. The household received a notice to vacate the property if the mortgage was not paid. MAHUBE-OTWA assisted with a portion of the mortgage to help keep the family in their home.

• Helped a single person who had to make a difficult decision - either to pay their rent or to get their car fixed. Without a vehicle, they would not be able to get to work to pay their rent. The person repaired their car, but fell behind on rent and was told if rent was not caught up they would be asked to leave. MAHUBE-OTWA was able to assist with back rent, which helped keep them in their home.

MAHUBE-OTWA has many other programs that can assist families and individuals. For more information, households in Hubbard County at 732-7204.

Note: The Community Action Partnership's Family Development program uses FHPAP to assist those who are in a crisis situation. To be eligible, the household's income must be under the 200 percent poverty guidelines for the size of their household, head of household must be homeless (couch hopping, staying with family or friends temporarily, living in vehicle or place that is not habitable, staying in a homeless shelter or motel/hotel paid for by another agency/program, domestic violence shelter or fleeing domestic violence, staying/living in an uninhabitable home) or at risk of being homeless (receiving a notice to vacate, an eviction notice, foreclosure) and must be able to show that with assistance the household can maintain the housing going forward.