WORTHINGTON — Every night for the past two months, a local motel room has served as emergency housing for the homeless of Nobles County.
In fact, there has been a waiting list — sometimes up to six contacts long.
The homeless have ranged from young children to the elderly, from Caucasians to people of color, from men and women to boys and girls.
United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) is addressing the need for emergency housing locally. In July, it secured a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Office of Economic Opportunity to be split among its 13-county service territory. The $14,400 dedicated to Nobles County was used to contract with a Worthington motel to rent a single room with a queen-size bed for an entire year.
The contract began Aug. 1, and since then, the room has been in use each night. Thus far, 25 families and individuals have called it their temporary home. Some stayed for a matter of days; others stayed for a few weeks.
“We could do twice as much if we had an additional room — one that was a family unit,” UCAP Family Services Manager Michelle Jensen told Nobles County commissioners during a Monday morning work session.
Jensen — along with UCAP’s self-sufficiency case manager, Owar Ojulu — asked commissioners to consider a $19,400 appropriation to the emergency housing program in 2020. The money would be used to contract with a local motel for a second room — one with two queen-sized beds to better accommodate homeless families.
It’s the first time UCAP has made an appropriations request to Nobles County. It took over management of the emergency housing program in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone and Murray counties a year ago from the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council.
Ojulu, who works full-time in Nobles County, said having a second motel room available for the homeless locally would help a lot.
The people being helped are not transients, but Nobles County residents. They are typically referred to UCAP by other agencies, and they have to be homeless in order to get assistance.
Jensen said the homeless in Nobles County often sleep in their cars and clean up in the restrooms of local businesses.
Their reasons for being homeless range from having to choose between paying for medications or paying rent; or paying a car repair bill instead of rent because the car was needed to get to work to pay the bills.
Some lost a job, some left domestic abuse, and some bounced from couch to couch until there were no more friends with open doors.
“People are sometimes making some really difficult decisions,” Jensen said. “If they’re barely making it as it is, it’s just impossible to catch up.”
In addition to providing emergency housing to the homeless, UCAP provides the assistance to get individuals and families back on track. This includes addressing common barriers such as securing a source of income, budget management and housing search assistance.
If they need a job, they are directed to CareerForce. If they have a disability, they are directed to resources to get a diagnosis and apply for Social Security disability benefits. Some have been helped to obtain child support.
“Some people find a job and all we do is help them get into an apartment,” she said. In those instances, UCAP closes their file if they haven’t had any issues in 30 days.
“Other people may need budgeting services or medication management,” she added. “As much as we can, we make sure they’re connected with other mainstream resources, like SNAP benefits and energy assistance.”
In addition to the DHS grant, UCAP receives Salvation Army funds to help the homeless. Those funds are limited to provide an individual or family with up to five days of shelter.
Jensen said a variety of funding options exist in other counties in UCAP’s 13-county service area. For instance, the United Way of Southwest Minnesota in Marshall helps fund emergency housing in Lyon County. In Meeker County, the ministerial association rents three apartments year-round solely to house the county’s homeless until they can get back on their feet financially.
In some counties, churches have stepped up to contribute funds to pay for a motel room for a year.
“We’ll be trying to look for things like that in Nobles County, too,” Jensen said of options if the county chooses not to fund the appropriations request.
The county typically acts on appropriations requests when it sets its annual budget in December.