FAIRMONT — Homelessness can be a scary thing, shadowing society in two ways. The first is the humanitarian concern for others. The second is the fear, however small, that one could someday, somehow face such a predicament.
For sure, homelessness is real. But delving into the problem reveals patterns and fluctuations, along with sources of aid to help people transition out. If they utilize it.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently issued a report that found 568,000 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2019. This represents an increase of 14,885 from 2018.
The report did note that homelessness among veterans and families with children fell 2.1 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.
In Minnesota, it is estimated that 8,000 people were homeless, a 10.1 percent increase from 2018, and a 1.4 percent rise from 2010. Most (80 percent) had shelter. The number of families with children experiencing homelessness rose 4.3 percent over 2018, with 94 percent having shelter.
According to HUD, the worst problems of homelessness are occurring along the West Coast, notably California.
“In fact, homelessness in California is at a crisis level and needs to be addressed by local and state leaders with crisis-like urgency,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “Addressing these challenges will require a broader, community-wide response that engages every level of government to compassionately house our most vulnerable fellow citizens.”
However, overall in the United States since 2007, the estimated number of people experiencing homelessness has declined from 647,000 to 568,000. Those with shelter stands at 356,000.
Locally, Curt Moeckel of Fairmont has become something of an expert on homelessness. He operates a Christian-based effort and entity known as “The Shepherd’s In.” It includes a weekly soup kitchen in downtown Fairmont and two sober living facilities for men, via rental housing. He plans to add a women’s facility in March or April.
“Homelessness, as far as the numbers and trying to quantify something like that, it changes, almost daily,” Moeckel noted.
However, he estimates there are about 50 homeless people living in town. He gleaned this number through talks with local jail inmates, whom Moeckel says have better first-hand knowledge of the situation.
Moeckel agrees that people transition in and out of homelessness. They come from places such as the local House of Hope, a drug and alcohol treatment facility; from the local jail; or are simply people who have been evicted from homes or apartments. Moeckel said felons cannot pass background checks, so landlords do not rent to them, or to those without jobs.
While there is a lot of help available — Human Services, CareerForce, etc. — people must fill out applications to receive it. The paperwork and verification takes time. So many homeless people face 10- to 30-day transitions before they can get answers, assistance and move on with their lives.
Moeckel wants The Shepherd’s In to be a one-stop shop to help people get their questions answered and help obtain the resources they need in a timely way.
He also made note of what he considers a larger group living homeless. These people may spend up to four months bouncing from couch to couch with friends or family. They also may be involved in drug use or drug sales, eventually getting caught and heading back to jail.
“That’s the cycle,” Moeckel said. “They get out of jail. They get out of treatment. They bounce from home to home. There’s no real shelter. There’s no real place for them to go. Eventually, they wear out their welcome, burn all their bridges and their next stop is to get back to jail. Here’s what the guys in jail said: ‘Jail is not a deterrent for drug users and homelessness. To them it’s a place to stay and a good meal.’ It’s hard for me to think like that. Who would ever want to go to jail? The answer is homeless people when they’ve run out of friends.”
Moeckel hopes to connect with people during what he calls a “gap time” in the cycle. The goal is to get them on the right track so they can be employed.
“Hopefully, give them a good enough life so they say, ‘Oh my gosh, I never want to go back to jail.’ A better life, a hope for a better life is more of a deterrent than a punishment.”
Those interested in contacting Moeckel to assist in his efforts or who may need assistance themselves can reach him at email@example.com. Or by calling him at (507) 236-5362. The Shepherd’s In also can be found on Facebook.