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Homeless shelters offer warmth during frigid winter

posted Feb 24, 2019, 1:29 PM by Andrew Tichy
By: Grace Halvorson

Clearly, it’s getting cold. We’re experiencing unbelievably frigid temperatures, brutal winds, and massive piles of snow. But after school, the majority of us hop in cars that (eventually) warm up, head to a coffee shop to do homework, and settle in at home. While we’re wrapped in blankets next to a fireplace, eating hotdish, it’s easy to forget how privileged we are. It’s easy to forget that as the weather gets colder, there’s people who don’t have a home. It’s easy to forget that there’s students who are walking the halls who aren’t sure where they’ll be sleeping or eating that night.

Homelessness heavily affects children. A 2015 study explained that 95% of homeless children experience neglect or abuse. While living in an abusive environment, it is extremely difficult for students to learn and achieve in education. Homeless children have lower reading and math scores, and are more likely to miss school. According to a study from the Family Housing Fund, homeless children are also much more likely to be sick, as half of homeless children are ill two or more times a month. But shelters in the Fargo-Moorhead area, and even the school district itself, have taken steps to ensure every student has a warm place to sleep. Babs Coler, the chief development officer at Churches United for the Homeless, explains that their facility has 8 family rooms. They also have a community center, which serves meals to anyone who comes in. Churches United recently opened a permanent apartment building called Bright Sky apartments. It has 43 units, all of which are used by families or individuals who experience chronic homelessness. Children and their families can turn to Churches United for food, support, medical assistance, and housing.

However, Churches United, along with other shelters in the area, are overflowing as the weather gets colder. Coler notes that there are people sleeping throughout the shelter on the floor, not just in rooms. But, Moorhead Public Schools is stepping in to help with brand new program created through funding from the state of Minnesota. Entitled “Homework Starts With Home”, this program ensures that every single child enrolled in the Moorhead Public Schools district has a home. This year, if a child enrolled in ISD 152 is homeless, the school district will pay for an apartment for the child and their entire family. This has been enormously influential, as Coler notes that 5 families have moved out of the Churches United shelter this year because they received housing. When children have housing, they can focus on their education rather than worrying about where they will sleep or eat. Receiving a home is life-changing, not just for the students, but for the entire family.

Coler is adamant that anything helps, and even a small donation can be impactful. She notes that the high school clothing supply at the shelter is very small, and often very old and used. If you’d like to help, Coler suggests donating clothes that “are actually cute and stylish!”. No one wants to wear an ugly, dusty sweater from the 50s. Other needs that the shelter has include diapers, baby wipes and formula; pillows, adult winter boots, gloves, ibuprofen, and space heaters. Community members can also volunteer to cook, play with children, or organize at the shelter. Let’s rally around our community, especially those experiencing times of hardship. It may be cold, but Churches United, Moorhead Public Schools, and community members are here with lots of warm comfort and care.