Homeless put strain on agencies
Despite a record-breaking collection during the Salvation Army's local Red Kettle campaign last Christmas season, the agency has run out of the money it designates to help the community's homeless.
At the same time, local food shelves are flooded with requests for assistance, the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council has nearly extinguished its funds for housing assistance and the Worthington Ministerial Association is pulling together what funds it can for motel vouchers, food and gas for people in need.
Some say homelessness has been an issue in Worthington for more than a decade, but most agree it has become a real issue within the past year, even the past several months.
Paula Boehrs, community services coordinator with the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council, said all of the programs they administer to the homeless in Nobles County are either out of funding or close to it.
"We're running out of funds -- our funds are not lasting us through the year," she said. "In the four counties that we serve, the greatest issue is in Nobles County. We have the greatest number of homeless in Nobles County."
SMOC administers the Salvation Army funding for motel vouchers, and Boehrs said their money ran out on Aug. 5. New funding isn't expected until later this month. In addition, their Rural Housing and Assistance Program funds, which SMOC received in July, are anticipated to last only a couple more weeks. Boehrs said if that program is funded again, they won't get money until next July.
"This is the first time that we've ever run out of Salvation Army dollars in the history of the bell ringers in our county," Boehrs said, adding that the money is used for more than just the housing voucher program.
SMOC receives money from both the federal HUD (Housing and Urban Development) program, as well as state dollars through the McKinney-Vento fund, which are also allocated by the federal government, said Boehrs. All of the funding requires a lot of paperwork for those seeking assistance.
"We have reporting that we have to comply with," said Boehrs. "They just can't walk in the door generally and get assistance."
In addition to helping people get into housing, the agency provides counseling services and instruction on making a budget. They also assist individuals in finding services in the community, from childcare centers to thrift stores and food shelves.
Jennifer Griffith, director of the Worthington Christian Church food shelf, said they are seeing considerably more people in need of food in recent months.
"Now, it's more the families than just the single person," Griffith said. "We just have to order more food -- we have to make sure we have more food on hand."
At a time when more people are going to food shelves for assistance, Griffith has noticed a decline in the number of donations and financial contributions to the non-profit group.
"The money people have to donate is lower," Griffith said, adding that their food shelf also receives funding from Second Harvest.
Fewer donations and a greater need have put a strain on not only the Worthington Christian Church food shelf, but on the Manna Food Pantry as well. A week ago, its coordinator asked for a greater appropriation from Nobles County Commissioners to help meet the demand.
Rev. Jim Krapf, of Westminster Presbyterian Church, sees firsthand the strain on the foodshelf, which is located in the lower level of the church. Yet, his role in the Worthington Ministerial Association has given him a glimpse of not just the need for food, but for housing, gas and other essentials.
Each year the local ministerial association raises funds through dues and donations from its participating churches, as well as from a musical festival conducted each year at American Reformed Church.
At its last meeting, Krapf said the ministerial association discussed four specific areas of response to the homeless issue in Worthington.
"The broader picture is we need to approach this with two prongs -- one is the compassionate, responsible care and the other is long term, dealing with the social justice issues," said Krapf.
At its meeting next week, the group will delve into the issues further, from advocating for transitional housing and additional rental housing to a feeding program similar to The Banquet in Sioux Falls, S.D., housing people in church facilities and promoting events such as this Saturday's Cardboard Box City in Adrian and Brewster.
Editor's note: This is the fourth in a five-part series. Watch for Saturday's paper to learn about the community's response.