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Area homeless shelters see record numbers

Northlands Rescue Mission downtown is bursting at its doors, with a record number of homeless people, said Director Dave Sena Tuesday. "We had 104 people staying here last night," he said. Capacity is 100. Showing visitors what used to be a confe...

Northlands Rescue Mission downtown is bursting at its doors, with a record number of homeless people, said Director Dave Sena Tuesday.

"We had 104 people staying here last night," he said. Capacity is 100.

Showing visitors what used to be a conference room, Sena said he had to have the tables removed, the chairs stacked in the corner to make it a dorm.

"We have seven guys in here," he said, indicating the unmade blanketed mattresses lined up in a neat row on the floor, little bundles of clothing and other possessions next to each one.

If he gets any more people, he and the Mission's 10 full-time and 10 part-time employees will have to start tearing down the dining hall each day to allow people to sleep there overnight.


The mission won't turn anybody away, he said.

"No, we haven't and we don't plan on it."

When Sena started working as chaplain at the Mission in 1998, only 35 or 40 people were staying there each night. Partly, that was a slight decrease after the Flood of 1997. But numbers never had run much more than 55 or so in the 60-year history of the Mission. But renovations, expansion and good management, as well as never-ending need, appear to have helped drive the increase in people showing up needing a place to live.

Last year, the mission averaged 75 people a night and served about 120 meals a day. Now, it's been close to 100 a night for weeks and as many as 120 people are being served at just one meal, although breakfast, lunch and dinner are served every day. The food, part of the $200,000 of "in-kind" donations, is very good. Boxes of newly picked apples sit on a table in the dining room, which was bustling at dinner Tuesday.

Larger economic issues across the country seem to be driving the recent uptick in people showing up, Sena said.

"We seem to see more people moving from a lot of bigger cities to smaller areas, getting away from things, trying to start over," he said. "We have been seeing more people from Chicago and that area come through here. We also have a lot of people coming for the harvest, from southern states like Florida and Texas. And we always have people trying to get into Canada."

It's easier to get permanent status in Canada than in the United States, in general, for refugees and others wishing to immigrate.

The Care and Share Center in Crookston is seeing higher numbers, too, including some overflow from Grand Forks, said Meranda Lelonek, supportive housing coordinator for the nonprofit downtown in the Polk County city about 25 miles southeast of Grand Forks.


Started in 1986 by Sister Justina Violette, a Benedictine nun in the former Cathedral high school at 220 East Third St., Crookston, Care and Share is a shelter, soup kitchen, food shelf and thrift store. It has a separate facility for housing a few families with children.

Violette died several years ago, but Care and Share continues on its mission.

"We are serving more people," Lelonek said. "We can house about 40 total at one time. A lot of people are coming, saying the mission (in Grand Forks) is full, can they get a bed here? It's obviously difficult to get people from Grand Forks to Crookston, but we can get them over here. Yes, we have been turning people away."

Although its beginning was a Catholic effort, Care and Share is nondenominational and not officially part of a parish or the Catholic Diocese of Crookston.

"We generate all our donations on our own. We have some wonderful support. But I know it's a struggle," Lelonek said of the effort to keep ahead of the need.

One of the partner agencies that helps Care and Share find housing for people told the Center on Tuesday it was out of money to help buy used furniture and other goods for people needing housing.

Shannon and Martin Hopper rode a Jefferson Lines bus from their home area of Lincoln, Neb., to Grand Forks, arriving eight days ago.

"There's no work back home," said Martin, 46. "Some guy in Fargo told us to come up here," said Shannon, 37. "It's a real nice place."


She's on Social Security disability and can't work. He's been out looking and done some jobs around the Mission. They have criss-crossed the continent, coast to coast, often staying in rescue missions.

"Somebody jumped me at a mission down in Texas," Martin said.

"People aren't nice in big cities," Shannon said. "So, we avoid them. People here are really nice."

"This is the nicest mission we have ever stayed at," Martin said. Although they are married, they can't stay together at the Mission; there just isn't the set-up, Sena said. But unlike most every other Mission, there isn't a rigid limit on how long residents can stay, as long as they work if they can and keep the rules.

The Hoppers had their own apartment in Lincoln, where they have family. But when Martin lost his job, he couldn't find another. "Not even a fast food one," he said.

They heard there was work in North Dakota, so they stored their things with Shannon's mother, left their four cats with a friend and came north.

They plan to find an apartment as soon as Martin gets a job.

Their story is pretty typical, Sena said: working people who live month to month who need a place to stay if they miss a paycheck or two.


Kirk Quamme, 42, moved in a week ago after he lost his job at a Grand Forks food processing company.

"I had an apartment, but it was $600 a month and I

couldn't afford it," he said. He's worked day labor jobs this week and has an interview for a full-time job.

"A guy I met here, he's a Christian guy, we are going to save up and get an apartment together," Quamme said. "This is the first time I've ever had to stay at a mission. They are really decent here. It's a blessing to be here."

About half of the mission residents work, Sena said. Some can't work because of disability or mental health issues. Some have criminal records. But he and his staff run a pretty tight ship and there have not been any serious problems.

Everyone takes a Breathalyzer every night; no sign of booze is allowed. There are 32 security cameras -- donated by the city -- spread throughout the five-story building that used to be the annex where nurses from Deaconess Hospital lived, next to their workplace. If anyone misbehaves, they are banned for six months or longer.

Because of the heavier numbers, Sena hopes to hire two or three more people for the fiscal year beginning Nov. 1. Some of the chaplain work he used to do doesn't get done, as the mission concentrates more on filling the physical and psychological needs. "I wish more churches were involved," he said. Several do put on chapel services, on an irregular basis.

Monday, the mission took in a record number of telephone calls -- 38 -- from people wanting to volunteer help.


Both shelters are serving more meals every day, too.

Sena said the Mission has been serving as many as 120 people at lunch or dinner, a record. Many of the people don't stay at the shelters but come for the free food.

He's hoping to raise another $20,000 quickly to add to $30,000 already in the bank to convert a fifth-floor apartment and private rooms into a dormitory to raise capacity to 125 people by January.

The mission used a budget of $900,000 in the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, including about $200,000 of "in-kind" donations of food and clothing. Next year's budget will be about $1.1 million, he said. The budget has about doubled in the past six years.

The mission will hold its annual banquet at 5 p.m., Oct. 23 in the Alerus Center with singer/guitarist Buddy Greene. Sena hopes that in addition to the table sponsorships and ticket sales that have raised $40,000 in financing 800 seats at the banquet, 100 will be sold and that $20,000 will be donated at the banquet that begins at 7 p.m., and $10,000 raised at the silent auction that begins at 5 p.m.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

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