Homelessness in Detroit Lakes and Becker County Discussed

Homelessness in Detroit Lakes and Becker County Discussed Click to Enlarge

DETROIT LAKES, MN--Nearly 80 people gathered in Detroit Lakes Sunday afternoon to discuss the issue of homelessness in the community. The issue has been around for decades but gained more attention last year as the number of "homeless" students in the Detroit Lakes School District struck a nerve when it was revealed that there were nearly 100 kids who were considered homeless.

Four panelists representing agencies who encounter the homeless on a daily basis lead the discussion. Liz Kuoppala from Mahube Otwa, Karen Crabtree from Essentia Social Services and Becker County Energize, Karin Friz-Staley from Detroit Lakes School District and Anna Sellin from Lakes Crisis and Resource Center each shared about encounters with homelessness in Detroit Lakes and Becker County.

Homeless kids fall into varying degrees of homelessness. Karin Fritz-Staley says the designations come from McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. She says the 100 homeless kids included 17 "living in shelter", 62 lived with other families or families, two "lived in places", eight lived in hotels and 22 were "unaccompanied minors". To give you an idea of one of the more dire classifications, the "living in places" included a kindergartener who was living in a van in a parking lot in DL with her parents and two other siblings. The other student in that category was a young man who was living alone in the boiler room of an apartment building during the cold winter months.

Fritz-Staley says once the kids are identified as homeless the district works to enroll them in certain programs like free lunch and transportation services and they wait for the paperwork to catch up. She says while the forum held in Detroit Lakes Sunday brought awareness there's more work ahead, especially for society to understand that a lot of these families who are homeless are working hard with paying jobs but are not able to afford to buy or rent a house.

Liz Kuoppala from Mahube Otwa says homelessness on a national scale started in the early 1980's when the federal government gutted rent assistance programs for the poor. She says without those programs in place, more people including families and seniors became more susceptible to becoming homeless if some catastrophic event or death of a spouse occured and left them and their finances in a downward tumble. Kuoppala says people need hope and she says the hope she sees is that public policy created homelessness and public policy can fix it, too. Mahube-Otwa offers a number of temporary services to individuals or families in Mahnomen, Hubbard, Becker, Otter Tail and Wadena Counties who may find themselves temporarily homeless. She says they are also looking for any landlords or homeowners who would be willing to work with them to help provide affordable rentals to people who need a little help getting back on their feet.

Panelist Karen Crabtree experienced homelessness for several months as a new mom getting out of an unsafe home. She says she was able to overcome her situation because she was surrounded by some very supportive people. Crabtree says now her life's work is to find solutions for these community problems like homelessness. In her work as a social worker for Essentia Health she says sees the impact of homelessness on personal health and the community in many different ways. She says she saw how several agencies who spent millions of dollars in resources on one person's health care find that homelessness is an underlying issue. Also, she says in the ER there are people aren't getting the necessary medicine because they don't have a home address to receive life-saving medication. She says drug addiction and mental health are other factors that lead to homelessness. There are great programs out there for drug treatment and mental health but there's no real support for people once they are out the doors back into society. Senior citizens are another sector of the population that sees a high rate of homelessness. Social security is not enough to cover household expenses and many end up living with family or friends and become victims of elder abuse.

LCRC's Anna Sellin says many of the women, victims of domestic violence, who leave their homes have nowhere else to go and often have to return to the home they fled.

Those who gathered Sunday to listen to the panelist forum at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes were also asked to share some possible next steps or solutions based on what they heard from the panelists. Some of those solutions: offer temporary support or create a better support system for those who find themselves homeless, create multi-generational affordable housing, offer affordable programs repair and restore some of the homes in lower income areas, create more awareness about homelessness. The forum was sponsored by the Congregational Church of Detroit Lakes.

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