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Grand Forks officials to host Project Connect for homeless

Grand Forks officials, employers, social service agencies and others came together last year for the city's initial Project Homeless Connect, a one-day, one-stop effort to help people in need.

Grand Forks officials, employers, social service agencies and others came together last year for the city's initial Project Homeless Connect, a one-day, one-stop effort to help people in need.

They'll do it again Thursday, but the name has been shortened to Project Connect.

"There are a lot of people in need who would not consider themselves homeless" because they're staying temporarily with relatives or friends or in shelters, said Emily Wright, executive administrator of the Grand Forks Housing Authority.

"We want to get to those people and help them" before they become homeless, she said.

North Dakota's economy may be humming along, with unemployment the lowest in the nation, but people continue to fall through the cracks, according to Project Connect organizers.

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The local Housing Authority's waiting list for subsidized housing approached 1,400 families earlier this year, Wright said, and Grand Forks County officials report that their food stamp caseload has grown by 47 percent since 2007. The county now issues more than $820,000 in food stamps a month.

The need for subsidized housing "does appear to have slowed" this fall, Wright said, but she fears that may reflect resignation on the part of potential applicants more than improved circumstances.

"We still have about 1,000 families on our waiting list, and I'd expect that to go up again as winter wears on," she said. "And the people we're selecting now (for placement in subsidized housing) have been on the waiting list about a year. It could be that people are not even trying anymore."

The Housing Authority places successful applicants in about 700 residential units and issues housing vouchers to an additional 1,265 clients. The vouchers make up the difference after clients pay 30 percent of their income for rent.

Grand Forks' second Project Connect will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, like last year in space volunteered by Hope Evangelical Covenant Church in the Grand Cities Mall off 17th Avenue South.

A community-based effort to reach out to the homeless and near-homeless in San Francisco more than a decade ago has spread to cities across the country. Last year's inaugural effort in Grand Forks was patterned after a project started in Fargo six years ago.

In Grand Forks last year, about 150 people filed past tables staffed by service providers, employers and volunteers who helped with applications for housing and veterans services, employment referrals, medical and mental health referrals and guidance on how to deal with domestic violence.

Some clients received on-the-spot haircuts and dental care, and volunteers served hot meals at lunch and dinner.

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Organizers say they expect a higher turnout this year.

There is no entrance fee for Project Connect, and a free project bus will run throughout Grand Forks and East Grand Forks on Thursday to take people to and from the site.

The project "is intended to be a path toward self-sufficiency for those who are facing homelessness now or those who fear they may face it in the future," Wright said.

Community members interested in volunteering at Project Connect may contact Kurtis Shelton at (701) 787-0043.

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

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