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North Dakota panel gets detailed view of homelessness around the state

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Mike Moen

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(Prairie News Service) North Dakota's affordable housing gaps came into focus at a public hearing Tuesday. A legislative committee, tasked with studying the issue, heard from a range of agencies, community groups and residents.

Department of Health and Human Services data revealed more than 15,000 people were experiencing homelessness when applying for the state's pandemic-related Rent Help program over the past couple of years.

Andrea Olson, executive director of the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, said in a perfect world, the program would not be allowed to expire as organizations like hers try to help establish housing stability, including for military veterans. 

"That program would be funded and we would be able to utilize it to help everybody experiencing homelessness, including veterans," Olson explained.

She pointed out things like low credit scores are big barriers in helping Veterans find housing, which delays progress in finding jobs and addressing other needs. The committee also presented recent census findings showing more than half of renters age 65 and older said they feel cost-burdened by their monthly housing payment.

Raquel Doll, licensed social worker for Ministry on the Margins, which serves homeless populations in Bismarck, said their low-barrier emergency shelter, which started last year, was meant to serve around a dozen people a night, and now serves around 50 most evenings. 

"These are the people on the margins," Doll emphasized. "Who go in and out of the great programs considered here today, or are confronted by the many barriers within the system itself."

The barriers she cited include costly security deposits and endless application procedures people who are unhoused may have trouble taking on. It's unclear how soon the Legislature might respond to the concerns laid out, with the next regular session not scheduled until 2025. The Government Services Committee is expected to reconvene in February.