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Counting the region's hidden homeless

On the night of Jan. 26, 2011, social service organizations in Carlton County, along with their colleagues across the country, conducted a "One-Night Point-in-Time Count of Homeless Persons." Required by HUD as part of the region's annual applica...

On the night of Jan. 26, 2011, social service organizations in Carlton County, along with their colleagues across the country, conducted a "One-Night Point-in-Time Count of Homeless Persons." Required by HUD as part of the region's annual application for funding for homeless programs, the count identifies the number and characteristics of homeless people who are sheltered and unsheltered on this one night.

Overall, 289 such surveys were completed in the Northeast Continuum of Care counties, which include Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Lake, Itasca and Koochiching. These surveys represented 407 people without a permanent place to live. Compared to last year's count, there was a lower percentage overall of people who were living with family or friends because they had nowhere else to go, a decrease in episodes of homelessness per person, and a decrease in the length of homelessness.

One hundred and thirty-six surveys were completed in Carlton County, representing 142 adults and 59 children. Two of the survey respondents were veterans and two were youth on their own. Because of extensive effort given to the Minnesota Statewide Homeless Count in October 2009, Fond du Lac Social Services did not participate in the January 2011 Count.

"Had the count been extended to the Fond du Lac Reservation, the number of households without permanent housing would have been much higher," according to Patty Beech of the Northeast Continuum coordinator.

Because Carlton County has no emergency shelter, persons without a permanent place to live in Carlton County typically stay at the home of families or friends or sleep in a place not meant for human habitation. On that cold January night of the survey:

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  • 96 of the households (70.6 percent) were staying at the home of family or friends;
  • 32 (23.4 percent) spent the night in jail, but had no home to return to upon release;
  • 3 (2.2 percent) stayed in a dwelling without heat, running water, or adequate food storage or toilet

facilities;

  • 2 (1.5 percent) spent the night in a vehicle or camper;
  • 1 person spent the night in a hotel/motel;
  • 1 person spent the night in a fish house; and
  • 1 person slept outside.

The count further revealed that families and individuals are going without a permanent place of their own for extended periods of time, and many are repeatedly without their own place to live.

  • Forty-four (42 percent) household groups had not had their own apartment or house in years. The average length of time without their own place was 4.4 years, with a range from 1-27 years.
  • Fifty-six (53 percent) of household groups had not had their own apartment or house in months. The average length of time without their own place was 6.4 months with a range of 2-11 months.
  • Twenty-seven survey respondents (21.4 percent) had been without their own place four or more times in the last three years; 21 (16.7 percent) had been without their own place three times; 46 (36.5 percent) had been without their own place twice; and 32 (23.5 percent) had been without their own place once.

Donna LeKander, director of the Carlton County Children and Family Services Collaborative, and Jan Ashmore, a Moose Lake resident, College of St. Scholastica social work student, and intern at the Collaborative, organized this year's count. They were able to get a much higher rate of participation than previous years by connecting with many private, public and non-profit organizations and making a concerted effort to count people who were doubled up.
Reflecting on her experience with this project, Ashmore said, "This experience was not only eye opening but saddening, and we know these numbers, as shocking as they are....are low. The results of this study reflect only the homeless we were able to identify. I am determined, now more than ever, to advocate for the men, women and children who are homeless in Carlton County so they may have the resources they need and deserve."

Beech added, "The extensive effort to identify people in Carlton County who lack permanent housing has helped to highlight the problem of hidden homelessness in Northeast Minnesota. Due to unemployment, low wages, domestic violence, lack of affordable housing, and personal problems, there are many more people than we are aware of that do not have a place to call their own home."

Collecting good data on the number, characteristics, and service needs of homeless individuals and families helps communities understand changes in homelessness within the community, adjust services available to better meet the needs of homeless persons, raise public awareness about the issue of homelessness, and measure community progress towards preventing and ending

homelessness.

Beech said social service providers and the Continuum of Care Committee will continue to identify solutions, such as the successful Operation Community Connect event, Fond du Lac Supportive Housing, and the Outreach Center Apartments that provide services and affordable housing for individuals and families that lack housing.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTY
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