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Letter: Forum reporting did not reflect project’s support

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I imagine those in our community experiencing homelessness breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief after the community meeting hosted by Churches United for the Homeless regarding what has turned out to be a surprisingly controversial funding proposal for permanent supportive housing in Moorhead. Not that you’d know it from reading The Forum, which published “Neighbors of proposed Moorhead apartment complex for homeless express frustration at public meeting” on July 2. 

While this is true in a strictly literal (and rudimentary) sense, it fails to capture the arc of the event and makes me wonder if the person or people collecting this information on behalf of The Forum bothered to stay for the entire meeting.

Conversation

What began as an emotionally charged and divisive debate about the presence of “substandard people” (said one detractor early in the evening) in a neighborhood of considerable wealth tied up in housing equity with no means to defend it, became a metered conversation amongst concerned neighbors, the wider Fargo/Moorhead/West Fargo community and Churches United itself. Over the course of two hours, myths about homelessness were corrected, rumors about the proposed apartment building were dispelled, and perceptions started to align with reality.

Highlights included the presentation of timely, region-specific evidence that permanent supportive housing counter-intuitively adds to neighboring property values; Moorhead’s chief of police calmly teaching everyone about the context of calls they receive and reminding us how important that context is; and, perhaps most importantly, a full house, indicating that this is an important issue to many in our community.

An opportunity

As a recent transplant to the F-M area (one year last month), I have been overwhelmed to learn about homelessness here and its tragic relationship with an uninspiring housing market. And now, what an opportunity for Moorhead. There is no more powerful an example of perception over reality, that proverbial mind over matter, than in our ability to determine this community’s future merely by saying “no, this is too scary” or, as a local filmmaker put it (though not verbatim), “yes, we celebrate the opportunity to lead the way in Minnesota in combating homelessness.”

There were still naysayers, including a late outburst from Moorhead Councilwoman Nancy Otto, which I’m sure she regrets now. But overall, the tone seemed to shift from betrayal that such a plan would be forced upon a neighborhood without warning to an understanding that the conversation has started, and will continue, with months to go before the proposal is even approved by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, and two years before would-be construction is completed.

Perceptions

There will still be detractors, of course (and they will be the most likely respondents to this commentary, if any), but I am honored as an F-M resident and as a Lutheran to bear witness to healthy conversation for the betterment of our entire community. Each and every one of our perceptions lends itself to the future of this project, in alignment with or in contrast to the facts. 

Despite The Forum’s story, there is net support for this permanent supportive housing project now, including from its future neighbors. Who would have thought it would just take a little education and empathy to get there?

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