The Rivers Edge Convention Center hosted Project Homelessness Connect last Thursday in order to counter the growing problem of homelessness in the St. Cloud community.
Event coordinators focused on making sure the event was tending to all homeless demographics, as well as providing support from a variety of different services and providers. Among the 57 providers that attended included Catholic Charities, Cost Cutters, the St. Cloud Police Department and the Department of Social Work at St. Cloud State University.
Since the launch of the event in 2011 at Halenbeck Hall at St. Cloud State University, efforts and the overall size of the event has grown to the Rivers Edge Convention Center, which has helped with reaching out to the homeless population.
“We wish we didn’t have to have events like this, but that’s the reality in our community,” said Christine Midthun, director of community relations for United Way of Central Minnesota. “For anyone that doesn’t think homelessness exists here, it exists.”
Homelessness has been on the rise in recent years in St. Cloud and other communities as well.
“It’s a hard number to come up with, because there are a lot of flaws in the system,” said Midthun. “There are a lot of flaws on how we count people.”
Midthun said that one reason numbers may be flawed is due to the number of people that are homeless who double up for living situations. Minduth emphasizes the nature of the skewed numbers by describing that the number of children in schools that are homeless is greater than 325 in St. Cloud alone.
“Some of those students, the reality is that last school year over 325 students were homeless, meaning that they didn’t have a permanent residence,” said Minduth.
Shelters in the St. Cloud community have also seen a trend that would consider a rise in homelessness among individuals but also more prevalent, families as well.
“I think that one of the important things to know is that homelessness is on the rise,” said Sheila Moriarty, an assistant professor of social work at St. Cloud State University. “I think the numbers are probably four to five time what they were twenty years ago.”
Midthun said that the Salvation Army in St. Cloud sees more and more families and individuals seeking shelter, however many are put on waiting lists due to the high demand.
“We have the Salvation Army Shelter in town, it has seven dedicated family rooms, that means four beds in each room,” Midthun said. “They have, on any given night, just for families 15 to 20 people on the list.”
The face of homelessness has changed. The old stigma of the homeless man holding a sign on the corner is beginning to grow into an epidemic that many people in communities all across the nation tend to forget. Families and working citizens are still struggling with homelessness.
“I think people choose not to see it,” said Moriarty. “A lot of the people walking in here are working full-time, but they cannot maintain an apartment.”
The rise of homelessness can be associated with many of the social stigmas, as well as societal standards that are present in today’s society. Many prior records can affect housing opportunities for people in every demographic, such as a criminal record or even an eviction record.
“There’s a woman on St. Cloud State’s campus, she came to talk to me during the silent auction, and she’s homeless. She works at the university, but the reason that she can’t get into an apartment is because she has a U.D. [Unlawful Detainer] which means she got evicted, and since the occupancy rate is so high in St. Cloud, landlords don’t have to deal with you,” Moriarty said.
“Think of how many times when you were a young student and you screwed up your budget and you didn’t have money, what would you do? You would call your parents or your support system. What if you don’t have that support system?”
Moriarty says that a lack of a support system correlates to homelessness across all sub demographics of the population, and is an attributing factor for any person facing this situation.
Due to the rise of homelessness across the country, the demand for social workers is also in high demand. Members of the St. Cloud State University Social Work Department were also present at the event, helping clients connect with the many different organizations supporting the event.
“I hope that what we are doing is impacting them in a positive way. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of people here with bigger smiles on their faces with a new haircut. with a new cell phone and with some more resources than they had before they came,” said Chelsea Atkinson, a senior at St. Cloud State University majoring in social work.
Hopes to help solve issues regarding homelessness have been addressed at the event, and the event itself has been argued to be the first big step to a solution.
“This is how you do it, this is how you fight homelessness. You put people together with the resources that help,” said Moriarty. “These people are already strong. Being homeless is tough and these people have to work very hard to survive and to take care of themselves, there is nothing lazy about this.”
“It’s all about setting them up with the right resources, and then they will do the rest.”