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Letter: Look behind statistics to get complete picture

Pete Marinucci (Forum column, July 25) performs a valuable service in detailing the findings of the Wilder Research study on homelessness in Moorhead. Marinucci brings to light the statistics on our homeless population – the criminal histories, the alcohol and drug abuse, and the ravages of mental illness. Our community does well to face problems with eyes wide open, and in this respect Marinucci’s letter sheds clear daylight on the challenges faced by the homeless among us and by the larger community in responding to their misery.

The Wilder Research study, as is appropriate, consists of statistics. But for the study to be of any real value, one must consider the individuals represented by the statistics. One must try to imagine the difficulties facing a person traumatized by abuse (39 percent of the adults were mistreated as children).

One must try to feel some sympathy for someone with a serious or chronic disability (84 percent of the adults). One must try to remember that our criminal justice system has become, in many ways, the treatment center for mental illness (50 percent of the adults suffer from mental illness).

Read with empathy

To read the Wilder Research study with empathy is to feel saddened at the plight of our neighbors, at their sorrows and burdens, and at least a little horrified at the prospects for their children (26 percent of Moorhead’s homeless).

It’s true, as Marinucci points out, that 63 percent of the adult homeless population in Moorhead (according to the study) have been incarcerated. What are we to make of this?

First, we should be aware that mental illness and abuse of drugs and alcohol have a lot to do with people being sent to jail. But following release, these people (yes, people just like you and me) must live somewhere, must somehow get on with their lives. They need to live somewhere.

Second, we’re all aware of the common parlance, “paying a debt to society.” When the convict is released, the assumption goes, the debt is paid. But what will become of this person? Where will this person live?


The Wilder Research study indicates that some 30 percent of Moorhead’s adult homeless population have an alcohol or chemical dependency. What are we to make of this?

Primarily, the dependency is of grave concern to the individual and to his or her family and loved ones – but generally not a threat to the surrounding community. Further, without the kind of support provided by Churches United and others, recovery is far less likely.

Thoughtful consideration of the hard truths presented by Marinucci should lead us to the conclusion that our community needs a plan to provide supportive housing for the recently homeless. Supportive housing is a specialty of Churches United. It offers the best hope for a new and successful life for those among us facing the most difficult and urgent challenges. And supportive housing should be located close to the services already provided by Churches United, close to public transit, and close to grocery shopping.

Concern misplaced

Yes, the neighbors of the proposed apartment complex have expressed concerns. But experience in our community shows that those concerns are misplaced. For 17 years, my family and I lived within two blocks of the original Churches United homeless shelter, located in the former Bethesda Lutheran Church just south of the library. In that time, none of us experienced a single unhappy episode involving a homeless person. As far as I know, none of my neighbors had a bad experience, either.

The homeless among us are not “itinerant marauders.” Let us be touched by the “better angels of our nature,” in Abraham Lincoln’s words. Let us act in decency and kindness, and affirm the efforts of Churches United to build supportive housing for the least among us.

Rowell is a former Moorhead City Council member.