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Insight from WFPD: What does homelessness look like in West Fargo

Within the past month a woman appeared at the West Fargo Police Department to ask for a $20 gas voucher. The funding for such vouchers is provided by the West Fargo Ministerial Society and administered by the police department. The gas vouchers are provided to those who demonstrate a need to travel but do not have the money.

As standard procedure, the woman was asked to provide identification, proof of registration and proof of liability insurance. She was also asked a series of questions to determine her need for assistance. Her explanation pointed out she needed more than the twenty dollar voucher could provide. It also highlighted a growing issue within our community.

The woman relayed the fact she and her husband had been working but living on a very limited income. They both had lost their jobs within days of each other. Without the necessary income, they were evicted from their home and resorted to living in their car. The gas voucher would allow her to drive from the parking lot where they were staying to a school here in West Fargo so her daughter could attend class. The voucher was granted.

Recognizing the need for additional assistance, to include sheltering, staff members began speaking with area agencies to locate additional resources. The family wished to stay together as a group making the location of shelter space more difficult. The other agencies were able to formulate an action plan for the family to follow and the woman left the station.

A point-in-time survey completed in January 2011 identified 406 people in the Fargo Moorhead region as being homeless. Seventy-nine of the homeless were children less than 18 years of age. In July, another point in time survey was completed. This survey identified approximately sixty-five families who were sleeping in cars and tents in the FM area because they lacked affordable housing. It is believed the actual number of homeless to be under reported as the survey is based on face to face conversations with individuals and shelter counts.

Project Community Connect was held on Oct. 12 at the Fargodome, designed to provide housing, services, and hospitality in a convenient one-stop model for people experiencing homelessness. While in attendance at the event, a total of 317 individuals completed a survey which asked the question "Do you have a plan for the winter months?" Out of the 317 - 155 answered "No they did not have a plan or their plan included camping out, living in a vehicle or seeking a bed at a shelter." Organizers of the event are aware from past point-in time surveys there is missing data from those individuals who were not in attendance to complete the survey.

There are 275 emergency beds in the various shelters in the FM area. Under limited conditions, the shelters are allowed to go into "overflow." In overflow status, they are able to make an additional fifty-six beds available by putting mattresses on floors in dining rooms and other similar spaces within the shelter. Given the known homeless population numbers there remains a shortage of seventy-five beds.

Sanford Medical recently facilitated a meeting with members of the FM Coalition for Homeless Persons, emergency preparedness planners for Fargo and Moorhead and other area service providers. The goal of the meeting was to bring the appropriate individuals and agencies together to work cooperatively in developing an organized plan focused on reducing the risk of injury or death for homeless individuals during the upcoming severe weather conditions. The group identified the following immediate needs:

*Identification of space for temporary shelter for nights when the weather is extremely severe. Additional space is needed for "warming centers" during daytime hours. 

*Donation of personal hygiene items to the shelters to include:  body wash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, disposable razors and deodorant. 

*Financial support for the purchase of supplies and operational expenses relating to the shelters.

*Donation of non-perishable food to the shelters and food pantry's.

*Collection of new or gently worn winter apparel to the shelter (i.e. coats, boots, hats, mittens).

*Collection of new or gently used sleeping bags.

Individuals wishing to help may contact Laurie Baker at 701-200-0855 or by e-mail at

Additional information may be found at Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons, PO Box 5653, 502 1st Ave. N., Fargo N.D. 58105,, fax 866-818-0856, phone 701-200-0855

(Information provided through Sanford Medical)