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Letter: Churches United invites support from community

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It is my privilege on behalf of Churches United for the Homeless to share a few words about our organization. When I say “our” organization, I really mean this in the largest sense of the word, as Churches United has currently 58 member churches, a wonderful array of inter-faith partners, individual contributors and many businesses and organizations that support the ministry.

We are blessed and honored to have a growing constituency of good friends and supporters. We are an organization that has been in the community for more than 25 years, and the next chapter as an organization has come into view through a recent strategic planning journey.

In response to many of the needs in the community, Churches United purchased 10 acres at 315 34th St. N., Moorhead. It is a parcel of land that has been vacant and on the real estate market for many years. Contrary to some opinions, the land and location made it a prime site for a sizable application to the Minnesota Housing Authority to build a 41-unit apartment complex with support services. The land was zoned multiuse and did not require approval from the City Council of Moorhead or the Clay County commissioners.

However, we always need support, and for this reason we extended an opportunity to both county and city leaders to consider affirming this project.

As a board of directors and supporters of Churches United, we understand that there can naturally be a feeling of “not in my backyard” stated publicly. Like other organizations, we need public voices to hold us accountable in doing our best in this project and in future planning. As we plan for the future, we aim for safety in mind for all involved. Those who will qualify and be approved for living in this complex will be families with children and individuals who are in a position to succeed. They are families and individuals who do not need a temporary shelter but a home. The site provides an area where residents can walk to a grocery store, other services and a bus stop. We hope in some cases residents will also be able to walk to nearby places of employment.

Thank you to the Minnesota Legislature and those who represent our region. In mid-May, they passed the housing infrastructure bonding bill, which made available $100 million for housing, a large portion of which is targeted at providing housing with support for people who are currently homeless. As an organization we were positioned to embrace, within a few weeks this spring, a complex application process in hopes of bringing resources to our part of the state. We seized the opportunity. Recent research across Minnesota indicates that affordable housing aimed at families that make less than $50,000 in household income per year does not adversely impact property values. As we interact with as many as 50 children a day living in the First Avenue shelter, our moral compass demanded that this funding application be submitted.

We live in a time of plenty, but because of many and varied life circumstances, poverty and homelessness remain with us. My own parents were North Dakota children in the 1930s. If they were still living, they would now be 86 and 84. At times they spoke of the poverty of their childhood. Almost always they would reflect upon that time by saying, “We didn’t know how poor we were because everyone was in the same boat.”

My friends, we live in a time when it is clear that everyone is not in the same boat. We live in a time with very significant economic disparity. I am very fulfilled to join with others in considering what the first steps beyond shelter means for people in our region, as we envision the future.

Please consider supporting Churches United for the Homeless as we join other organizations in the work of creating affordable housing. It takes a community, filled with love, grace, hospitality and service, to transform shelter into home.

Pastor Mellum is president, Churches United for the Homeless.

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