New effort aims to reduce Fargo-Moorhead homelessness by 90% by 2023

Waiting lists for shelters and famlies a paycheck away from losing apartments or homes shows need for help

Isaac Myhre and Cailey Bryant serve lunch to residents Micah's Mission Shelter on Friday, March 19, 2021, at 1901 1st Ave. N, Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO — Reducing homelessness by 90% in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area by 2023 sounds like a lofty goal.

Ask those involved in a new and targeted approach that's just getting underway, however, and they are confident, excited and believe it can happen.

It's called the Homeless Prevention Project. With a $3 million commitment by the United Way of Cass-Clay over the next three years and more than doubling the staff members of the lead agency at Presentation Partners in Housing, it just may be possible.

"Absolutely," said Tom Hill, vice president for community impact for United Way. "With all of our partners we think it's possible."

Cheri Gerken, executive director of Presentation Partners, agrees.


"I really do," she said. "I really think the community is ready for this. We're so excited."

Another local partner in the effort, Cody Schuler, who is executive director of the 30-year-old F-M Coalition to End Homelessness, thinks the name of his organization may come a lot closer to being a reality.

"We have some great service providers here, and for the past five years we've worked hard to improve the system," he said.

With the "brand new, shiny program and the resources," he also thinks the effort will improve even more and that the goal is "doable."

So the big question is how will it get accomplished?

Increased staff

One of the "critical pieces" is having enough staff who know how to find resources to keep families from having to take to the streets or use shelters.

This year, United Way is funding three more of those staff members at Presentation Partners to help those on the verge of homelessness, and the city of Fargo is using federal funds to help hire four more positions.

With the new positions, six Presentation Partners staff will be working on the "diversion or prevention" project that started Jan. 1 to keep people from losing their homes or apartments. Another five housing specialists are working on helping those facing more chronic homelessness.


Residents in need simply need to call First Link at 211 to get started. The Presentation Partners staff initially takes the requests and determines the best fit or agency for helping whether it's them, community action agencies in Fargo or Moorhead or the Salvation Army.

There's proof that an added staff member can help, as Hill said they were able to fund an employee starting in October and through December. During that period, he said, 79 families were diverted from homelessness.

The United Way is spending $150,000 for those three positions this year, and will fund one more position in each of the next two years.

"The staff can give the right help at the right time with their technical expertise," Hill said.

That means they know where they can direct and help families to find resources for rent, mortgages, utilities and food.

Kitchen coordinator Judy Hauschulz prepares lunch trays for residents Micah's Mission Shelter on Friday, March 19, 2021, at 1901 1st Ave. N, Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Fund has a 'dramatic effect'

Another critical part to meeting the goal will be funds.


With United Way's three-year commitment of $3 million, along with other local, state and federal assistance, there may be enough money available.

The federal assistance through the pandemic's CARES Act and American Rescue Plan can make the job a lot easier.

Schuler said the federal moratorium on evictions has also helped. When trying to find homeless funding in talking to various lawmakers, he said he points out that it's way less expensive to keep an individual or family in an apartment or home than in a shelter.

He added newly developed Veterans Administration funding to help homeless veterans also has had a "dramatic effect."

Hill said the local effort is strong, too, and that's what it'll take to keep the prevention program going.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for such an effort, said Sarah Hasbargen, the self-sufficiency coordinator for the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency which, along with the Lakes & Prairies Community Action in Clay County and local county social services offices, can also provide assessments of needs and in some cases additional financial help.

"I think it (the pandemic) showed that many families are one paycheck away from homelessness or poverty," Hasbargen said.

Although statistics aren't available for 2020 yet, Gerken has a wide variety of data available on the estimated 1,022 people who are without a home of their own on any given night in the metro area.


Schuler said that figure includes 393 in shelters, 516 who are doubling up on living arrangements with friends or family and 113 people living outdoors, in a car or vacant building. He thinks the number of people doubling up is much higher.

Gerken and Schuler said the metro's four shelters and transitional housing facilities with 393 beds do a tremendous job, but Schuler said "there's never a situation when they aren't full."

In seeking support for a prevention program in 2019, Gerken said they would have had the potential in the metro area to help 1,185 people, including 364 people who lost their apartment or a home they owned, 532 people who doubled up in housing with friends or families and 288 who had been in jail or were in a chemical dependency treatment or mental health center.

In 2019, 3,322 individuals in 2,325 households received homeless services.

Gerken said that includes 975 children, which is equal to the student body at Fargo North High School, among 485 families. With programs in place that year, only 28.5% were able to be accommodated with housing.

As for last year, the numbers only got worse amid the coronavirus pandemic, Schuler and Gerken said.

As for chronically homeless people, some of whom may have behavioral or mental health problems, Schuler said there is a lack of funding there.

Another program to try to end homelessness in the past didn't reach its goals.


In 2006, there was a program started by the city called "Going Home" that aimed to end homelessness by 2016. In 2006, the homeless population was estimated at about 400. They realized then, too, that about 30% of homeless were in the long term category and "extremely difficult to house."

This time, though, Schuler, who favors a big picture look at the situation, thinks it will be different.

He said agencies are working "much better" together in a more coordinated approach, and the prevention program will be a major boost in that effort.

Schuler said the case management aspect will be much better, too, so residents have a better chance of success to stay housed and hopefully, eventually make it on their own.

The top reasons for homelessness are that people lost their jobs or had hours cut, or were evicted or not able to afford rent or house payments, according to a coalition study from last year.

Other barriers were credit problems, not being able to find affordable housing, bad rental history and criminal backgrounds.

With fewer people needing to go to the shelter or its waiting list as the prevention program progresses, it will free up shelter beds for those who may have no other immediate options.

In some cases, these are the most vulnerable individuals with higher barriers. In the coalition's report last year, it said 66% of the chronic homeless individuals had mental health problems, with 42% having substance abuse and physical health problems or a combination of two or all three.

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