BISMARCK — “How do you get a job when you don’t have a permanent residence? How do you fill out that initial paperwork? How do you go for an interview when you don’t have anything but the clothes on your back?” asked Darcy Severson with Community Options.
In 2019, 567 people in North Dakota were counted as homeless. While that number is down from over 1,200 five years ago, leaders with several state agencies said it’s still too many.
Monday, over a dozen state agency heads came from all over the state to discuss ways to tackle homelessness and not just the kind of homelessness you might think of first, like people sleeping on the street. Severson said what’s common is here is what’s known as “couch surfing.”
“They might find a friend or a relative, or someone that they just ran into for the day, to be able to get some shelter to find a place to sleep for the day. Doesn’t mean that it’s a lifetime solution or even a week’s solution. We deal with a lot of people that couch surf from one person to the other,” said Severson.
Severson said many people couch surf because they’re addicted to drugs and are turned away from many shelters. Other homeless include those laid off from the oil and gas industry and have nowhere else to go.
Homelessness is also a major problem facing those in our state’s tribal communities.
Leaders said the tribes and the state government need to communicate better.
“Right now, the way we’re addressing them, the state is working over here without tribal housing authorities. Tribal Housing Authorities do not get any funding to address tribal homelessness, so that’s part of the issue, that systematic issues of their data systems not speaking to each other,” said Lorraine Davis, Executive Director of Native American Development Center.
She added that “tribal member cycling” is also a big issue. That’s where members bounce between homelessness on tribal land as well as metropolitan areas.
What everyone here agreed on is that one bucket of funding and initiatives won’t fix the problem, because nearly every person who’s considered homeless has a unique situation. State leaders said action needs to come sooner rather than later because while they were discussing new ways to help the homeless, those people are still outside in the cold.