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Study: More than 1,200 homeless, nearly homeless on Minnesota reservations

Duluth, Minnesota (AP) 12-07

Homelessness is prevalent on American Indian reservations in northern Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find people living under bridges or in shelters, according to researchers with the Wilder Foundation.

Using a broader definition of homelessness, researchers found that more than 1,200 people on northern Minnesota’s reservations are homeless or doubled up in the homes of friends or family members.

The study, released during December, showed that many people didn’t meet the federal definition of homeless but were living in overcrowded homes with multiple families.

“Even though people might be staying for a long period of time in that status, it isn’t necessarily a stable way to live because they are bouncing back and forth among so many different settings,” said Ellen Shelton, a researcher who analyzed data for the study.

Researchers conducted 674 interviews in fall 2006, focusing on the Red Lake, Leech Lake, White Earth, Mille Lacs, Bois Forte and Fond du Lac reservations. Only Red Lake has a homeless shelter.

Lester Drift, a mental health supervisor for the Bois Forte Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said it’s not hard to find homeless people in Nett Lake when using Wilder researchers’ definition of homelessness.

“You could see it if you ride around the village here; see how many cars are parked in one driveway,” said Drift, who grew up on the reservation and remembers seeing multiple families living in one home. “I just thought of it as relatives taking care of relatives.”

The study also showed that 98 percent of people doubled or tripled up with extended family would prefer to have their own housing.

Almost half of those considered homeless or near homeless by the researchers are children, and less than a third of the adults in those categories were employed, according to the study.

Drift said 42 families are on the Bois Forte housing waiting list out of about 600 members on the reservation. At Fond du Lac, about 250 families are on a similar waiting list out of 1,800 members on the reservation, chairwoman Karen Diver said.

The Fond du Lac reservation hopes to build 24 units of multifamily housing and has applied for 30 Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers left over from Hurricane Katrina. Officials are waiting to see if the trailers can withstand Minnesota winters.

But Diver said providing housing is only a first step in reducing the number of homeless.

“Just providing them a house isn’t going to solve the problem,” Diver said. “It’s the stability and maintenance of being able to stay in housing that becomes the long-term key.”

 

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