Programs in place to help county's homeless

Homelessness exists in Hubbard County. The condition may be a family or individual who's "couch hopping," explained Rosy Hjermstad, housing case worker for Mahube-Otwa, moving from friends' and families' homes in the absence of a permanent residence.

Rosy Hjermstad, housing caseworker for Mahube-Otwa

Homelessness exists in Hubbard County.

     The condition may be a family or individual who’s “couch hopping,” explained Rosy Hjermstad, housing case worker for Mahube-Otwa, moving from friends’ and families’ homes in the absence of a permanent residence.

     Or there have been instances of people living in their cars.

     But for many, the problem is rectified through a variety of programs addressing the issue, Hjermstad explained.

     A family or an individual defined as homeless is someone without a residence for a full year, or four times in the past three years. There are currently 19 verified cases of long-term homelessness being assisted through programs in Hubbard County.


     To remedy what is often a situation requiring immediate assistance, Mahube-Otwa offers several homeless and housing programs.

     An Emergency Solutions Grant Program for housing families in crisis situations provides funding for one or two nights in a motel or shelters in Bemidji or Detroit Lakes, until a “plan of action” can be defined.

     “Hubbard County has no shelter,” Hjermstad said. And in these situations, “everything has to happen fast.”

     The Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program, “the most active,” provides rental assistance and foreclosure prevention.

     “We help families with finding affordable, safe houses,” she explained.

     And Minnesota Housing – Ending Long Term Homeless rental vouchers provide ongoing rental assistance based on income for single adults and families with children. They must meet the definition of long-term homeless. Nine vouchers are currently issued in Hubbard County, eight at Cornerstone and one for a youth.

     Cornerstone Apartments’ eight transitional housing units are funded through the federal Housing and Urban Development, Hjermstad explained.        Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority contracts with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission for administration of Cornerstone; Hjermstad conducts the case management.

     She works closely with HRDC housing specialist Nikki Clancy.


     “At any given time, there are 10 families or more on the waiting list,” Clancy said of Cornerstone Apartments prospective residents.

     Criteria for consideration: They must be Hubbard County residents and families are prioritized over singles.

     Hjermstad works one on one with clientele, informing them of additional resources to become self-sustaining.  This may include workforce development, education, budgeting, home maintenance, paying legal fines and transportation.              

     Hjermstad was pleased to learn Rural Minnesota CEP will now be meeting with clientele twice a week in the Hubbard County Government Center to offer employment and training services. Formerly, clients traveled to Bemidji, transportation often an issue.

     People are referred through a variety of sources – ­ the school, Headwaters Intervention and Family Crisis Center, youth groups, the Salvation Army and Head Start and more.

     Park Rapids Schools Superintendent Lance Bagstad said one student is currently identified as homeless. “But we are aware of a number of mobile families,” he said of couch hopping.

     Most of the people served are long-time residents of Hubbard County, Hjermstad said. They may face addiction or mental or physical disabilities. “The grand majority are families with children and minimum wage earners.”

     Locally, Mahube-Otwa works with Kuefler Properties and D.W. Jones to find income-based housing.


     A program in the works, Bridges, will help additional families dealing with mental disabilities, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and other physician-diagnosed conditions. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency program is awarding five to 10 “slots” for families.

     “Families that we are unable to help, because of funding or who don’t qualify, are referred to the Salvation Army or churches,” Hjermstad said. Sexual assault and domestic violence cases are referred to the Headwaters Intervention Center.

     “We want to create positive awareness, the good we do for people in need,” she said. “It takes a village to raise a family. We must do it all together. The program’s goal is to empower people to become self-sufficient.

     “The resources in the community help connect the dots.”


State addressing the issue

     According to a Wilder Research Study conducted in 2013, the number of homeless families and children was declining prior to the 2007 recession. But the recession impacted a population that “is always among the last to recover.”

     But the outlook now appears to be more positive.


     Two years ago, the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness (MICH) adopted a set of strategies and goals to improve housing stability.

     A recently released study, Heading Home, Minnesota’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in 2016-17, states, “Preventing and ending homelessness in Minnesota is possible.”

     Until recently, homeless was considered an intractable problem, the study states, “something to lament, but reluctantly accept as a feature of modern life.”

     Today, a growing number of communities across the nation have shown ending homelessness is achievable.

     Minnesota has had one of the largest statewide decreases – 17 percent – in family homelessness between 2014 and 2015, the report states. Homelessness among veterans was cut in half between 2010 and 2015.

     Hubbard County Commissioners recently learned of a nearly $1.5 million award for eight area agencies serving 23 counties in the northwest corner of the state, Mahube-Otwa serving as the lead agency and fiscal agent.

     The funding’s purpose is to provide case management for the long-term homeless and match them with a permanent supportive housing project, Marcia Otte, Mahube-Otwa family development director, told commissioners.

     “We are estimating we will serve 266 new households with 665 beneficiaries within those households,” Otte said.





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