North Dakota's 'hidden homeless'
MINOT -- New Jersey native Joe Lasky has seen a side of North Dakota that many people native to the state often don't see. Lasky, 23, an AmeriCorps worker with the Minot Area Homeless Coalition, has spent the past year working with a homeless pop...
MINOT -- New Jersey native Joe Lasky has seen a side of North Dakota that many people native to the state often don't see.
Lasky, 23, an AmeriCorps worker with the Minot Area Homeless Coalition, has spent the past year working with a homeless population that stays largely under most people's radar.
"There's a fundamental difference between the homeless here and the urban homeless. It's the hidden homeless. You really have to be creative in the way you approach the situation," Lasky said. "You have to not only seek out the homeless, but prove that the issues do exist to the general population. A lot of what I did revolved around that."
Lasky immersed himself in every aspect of the coalition's work. He was instrumental in organizing Project Service Connect, a new event that helped homeless people and families connect with agencies. He took lead roles in planning other fundraising events -- a Martin Luther King Day event and the annual coalition banquet. He developed planning guides that will direct the coalition in holding future events.
Lasky completes his yearlong assignment on Dec. 5. He will be returning to New Jersey, but he leaves the coalition with stronger ties to other groups and with new planning tools.
Louis "Mac" McLeod, the executive director, said the coalition would not have been able to conduct all activities that it has this past year without Lasky's help.
"It was an infusion. He had so much energy," McLeod said. "When he needed something, he would call me. I didn't have to look over his shoulder. His oral and written skills are excellent, and you don't find that too much in a young person. This is a young man who has a vision. He's dedicated. When he gets involved in something, he's focused and it gets done.
"If I could have figured out how to keep him here, I would have. But I don't want to go up against his mother," McLeod said, and not entirely in jest. Lasky's family, especially his mother, is eager for him to return to New Jersey.
Lasky plans to spend the next year in New Jersey, where he intends to volunteer with a shelter there. He'd then like to travel overseas or to Alaska to work. His longer range plans include graduate school and possibly law school.
Lasky had recently graduated from college with a political science degree when he came to Minot. He had narrowed his potential AmeriCorps assignment options to North Dakota and California, selecting North Dakota after visiting with McLeod, another New Jersey native.
"I decided this would be a more exciting place to be," he said.
Lasky said he developed new insights into homelessness. Most people who are homeless in the Minot region are working but cannot afford a dwelling, he said.
"It helped me shed the association of pride and homelessness. It really can happen to anyone," Lasky said.
While in North Dakota, Lasky acquired a motorcycle and began exploring the state. He fell in love with the Badlands, and he has a ready answer for friends in New Jersey who ask about the cold and question what there is to do. His parents came to share his appreciation for North Dakota after paying a visit.
"The people are just amazing in Minot and North Dakota in general," Lasky said. "When I moved here, Mac told me the people here are different. That's why people stay. It's just true. It seems like there's just an underlying sense of trust that the East Coast doesn't have."
Lasky also found compassion, through such examples as the city's eight soup kitchens, all run by churches.
"They care," he said. "You can just clearly see that in the way they talk and the way they act. That encouraged me to give it my best."