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Senator Tours State During Congressional Recess to Tackle Housing Headache

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Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Housing Summit, Mandan Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Housing Summit, Mandan
Bridge near Williston (2011), courtesy ND Coalition for Homeless People, Inc. Bridge near Williston (2011), courtesy ND Coalition for Homeless People, Inc.

Congress may be in recess, but Senator Heidi Heitkamp is home at work on a catch-22.

Western North Dakota is redefining what it means to be "working poor."  Here, you can earn $30,000 a year and not be able to afford a place to live.  A two-bedroom apartment in Williston can run upwards of $2,000 a month, which doesn't leave much left over.  "What you'll find is then someone looks like they earn too much on paper, so they can't be allowed into an affordable unit, but they don't have any other choices in the community that they can afford.  And so that's kind of the catch-22 is there really is no where else to go," says Jessica Thomasson, Lutheran Social Services - ND, Housing.

Which is why the Senator is brainstorming with community leaders about North Dakota's housing headache.  "And one thing that I promise you as your Senator is I won't fall so in love with my ideas that I'm unwilling to listen to another one," says Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

She's also hearing about another unintended consequence of a robust economy -- homelessness.  The North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People reports 90 percent of the homeless are from the other 49 states.  "These are undercounts because we can't get enough volunteers to go under every bridge in North Dakota and find every homeless person," says Michael Carbone, Executive Director, North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, Inc.

And about 30 percent of those homeless are children.  If you can imagine -- "You're trying to do your homework in the back of a car or van with your siblings crawling all over you," says Michael Carbone, Executive Director, North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, Inc.

Community leaders say the solution involves a public and private approach.  "The true solution to homelessness is not more shelter, because that, again, is a symptom.  The solution to homelessness is appropriate housing for those people," says Carbone.  

They're also imploring the Senator to adjust income limits to qualify for affordable housing -- and give the working poor in oil country a chance.  "Adjusting the income limits is something that could happen a little more quickly.  It always takes time to build more housing," says Thomasson.

Senator Heitkamp will conclude her housing summit tomorrow in Fargo.

 

 

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