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Help for the homeless coming with new service

SLAYTON — Beginning next Tuesday, the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone and Murray counties, as well as Western Community Action in Jackson and Cottonwood counties, will offer a one-stop service for the homeless.

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The hope is to bring about a quicker response —and prevent homeless individuals from going to one agency after another in search of assistance, according to Justin Vorbach, supportive housing specialist with the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, and coordinator of the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care.

Agencies across southwest Minnesota have limited amounts of funding available to assist the homeless. In Nobles County, a homeless person could seek assistance from the Salvation Army, SMOC, Human Services or the Southwestern Mental Health Center, but may find it difficult to get help.

Through the Continuum of Care Initiative, one intake point in the county will have information on all of the forms of assistance available, and which ones are able to take on new clients. Through the new system, individuals will be asked to complete a two-page assessment. Once that is completed staff at SMOC or Western Community Action will work to find assistance.

“Every intake will have a common form — that’s meant to get a sense for whether the people need one-time assistance versus something more like transitional housing for a few months, versus someone with a disability with a more profound need,” Vorbach explained.

Once the form has been completed, the worker can develop a response, such as the available programs to meet the homeless person’s needs, as well as the capacity of the program to serve each client.

The best match between the homeless person or family and the program will be made depending on the type of assistance needed. Lists of available services will be updated weekly for each intake point to have the latest data available.

“There will still be the challenge of trying to find people places to stay until a more permanent resolution can be found,” Vorbach said.

In southwest Minnesota, Marshall is the only community to operate a homeless shelter. Most other counties provide motel vouchers to the homeless who are in need.

“The effort to find someone a bed for the night is going to be the biggest challenge,” Vorbach said, adding that agencies like SMOC and Western Community Action have already worked with the homeless on finding temporary housing.

Still, finding someone a place to spend the night does little to solve the underlying issues.

“A few nights in a motel often doesn’t fix the issue that led to homelessness,” Vorbach said. “Oftentimes people need more than just a few nights in a motel … to get back on their feet.”

Agencies in the Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care have access to programs ranging from short-term emergency shelter to transitional housing and permanent supportive housing for those who need a higher level of support, but Vorbach said resources are quite limited.

The Southwest Minnesota Continuum of Care is a pilot project, although Vorbach said it will continue indefinitely.

“We’ll be checking in regularly to try to improve the system,” he said.

During the most recent point-in-time homelessness count in southwest Minnesota — done on Jan. 23 — Nobles County had 25 households considered homeless (second to Kandiyohi County, which had 36 homeless households). Six households in Jackson County, four households in Cottonwood County and two households in Murray County were considered homeless, while Rock and Pipestone counties had no homeless individuals counted that day.

Overall, 124 households were homeless across the 18 counties of southwest Minnesota. Broken down by type of homelessness, 10 were unsheltered (living in a vehicle, laundromat or home with no utilities); 11 were in an emergency shelter program (at The Refuge in Marshall or Safe Avenues, a domestic violence shelter in Willmar); seven were staying at a motel for a few days due to agency assistance; 28 were in a transitional housing program; and 68 were doubled up temporarily on the couch or floor of family or friends.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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