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Letter: Misuse of Wilder report unfortunate, prejudicial

I  commend members of the Moorhead City Council and the mayor who had the gumption to rescind their otherwise hasty and ill-informed “no” vote to plans of Churches United to house homeless families in the lot across from Walmart. It is striking that one person in each ward voted against the resolution and one for, and one can only hope that this is a reflection of true conviction and not a political ploy.

I am particularly pleased that Brenda Elmer, from my ward, brought the resolution to the floor. The council sends an important message to the community that this is an issue that needs to be confronted with courage and conviction.

Prejudicial opinion

The same cannot be said for the unfortunate and prejudicial opinion written by Pete Marinucci (Forum, July 25). Marinucci would like the council to rezone the area so as not to allow Churches United to develop a campus “to provide services and living accommodations for impoverished criminal addicts with impaired mental capability” with few ties to Moorhead. Marinucci cites the triennial study by the Wilder Foundation on homeless in Minnesota. Unfortunately, he twists the statistics in the report to spread prejudicial and borderline racial vindictive against a group of individuals whom the Wilder Foundation is trying to help.

The facts

Marinucci conflates national (e.g., mental health issues), statewide and regional statistics in order to arrive at a damning indictment of the homeless and achieve a conclusion he held before inundating us with “facts.” Nowhere does the Wilder report mention Moorhead.

Here, however, are the facts. The Wilder report argues for community involvement in order to provide affordable housing for the homeless. The report cites five main causes for homelessness:

  • The ongoing effects of the 2007 recession, which has caused an increase in older adults and children, i.e., families, the very group Churches United is trying to help;
  • Lack of affordable housing. According to the report, “Nearly half of homeless adults lost their housing because they could not afford the rent or mortgage and/or they lost a job or work hours”;
  • Barriers to independent living. This includes mental illness, but nowhere does the report say that this population is a threat to society, and I am proud to say that we have many agencies in the Fargo-Moorhead area that help those with special needs.

    As the father of a son with special needs, I take umbrage at the implication by Marinucci that my son is an “impoverished criminal with impaired mental capability.” Mental illness does not equate with violence and should not be stigmatized;

  • Homeless youth have a rocky road to adulthood, usually due to an abusive childhood. As the report states, “About half were physically abused, 1 out of 3 neglected, and 1 out of 4 sexually abused as a child.” This is a community problem. We can shove it under the rug by lashing out against the homeless, or we as a community can address the problem of childhood abuse in order help more future adults stay out of homelessness;
  • Homelessness is still racial. People of color are more consistently overrepresented than white people. These are not criminal addicts the report is referring to. In our neighborhood, these are refugees from Sudan and Somalia who are told to take refuge here, but are treated like second-class citizens when they get here. These are Native Americans, who have been abused and seek a better life, a new start, but are shunned by this community.

Not criminals

When we speak of the homeless, we are speaking not of mentally deficient criminals, as Marinucci would have it. No, we are talking about people who are down on their luck, who have lost their homes, who cannot find employment, who have returned from our wars with serious mental issues, who are our most vulnerable members of society – children and older adults – who are just trying to survive. Churches United is trying to provide them a leg up in a place with easy access to shopping (Walmart, Cashwise, Kmart, Boys Ranch) and local transportation, to integrate them into a society that is clearly prejudicial.

A community

It is time to educate Moorhead what it means to be a real community and what responsibilities each of us have to be inviting and inclusive. This is the job of the City Council, the many wonderful agencies that provide support for the disadvantaged, and each of us who has a conscience and a voice. And to the four members of the council who voted against the proposal to rescind their original vote and to Marinucci, I would respectfully ask that you reconsider your positions. “There but for the grace of God go I.” Any one of us could be homeless.