By Clay Schuldt
As the holiday season approaches many people are in the spirit of giving, and today more than in the past there is a greater need for goodwill and charity. With an ongoing economic recession and continued budget cuts to state-funded programs, the number of requests for assistance is expected to rise.
The U.S. poverty rate is currently estimated at 12 percent. In Houston County 1,750 residents live under the poverty line. With a total population of nearly 19,000, Houston County is doing better than both the national and state average, but this still means one in 10 people in the community have trouble getting by on a day-by-day basis.
Bluff Country Family Resources Executive Director Robin Yaffe Tschumper estimates 36,000 cases of people needing assistance will come forward in the coming year and the county may not be prepared to handle the increase.
“From my perspective it seems worse because we’re getting more and more calls every day,” Tschumper said. “There’s just less assistance out there. We had a 46 percent cut in our program budget. We lost our Children Funding completely.”
Since the state only accepts competitive funding every five years, children’s programming will be on hold for awhile.
The major concern is the program will be defunct in that time and will be difficult to start back up. “We are looking for additional funding for that,” Tschumper said “but there just are not many grants out there.”
As a part of her position Tschumper works with the Women’s Resource Center and explained that one of the many side effects of a down economy is a rise in domestic abuse. “There are lots of people who don’t believe there is as much domestic violence in this county than there is, and we don’t have enough room to serve everyone who comes through our door.”
Often those fleeing domestic violence do so without any financial support, and the first obstacle is coming up with funding for a security deposit. “There is no funding anywhere for security deposits. When people are homeless that is a big blockade.”
Family Resources, SEMCAC (Southeastern Minnesota Citizens Action Council) and/or the county could provide support for a month’s rent, but many agents have turned away from assisting with the initial security deposit. Tschumper noted that without a place to live it is impossible to find a job to raise the necessary funds for a deposit.
Another group facing challenges are veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The veterans coming back from overseas are demonstrating a higher rate of disability, substance abuse and mental conditions.
In September Tschumper informed the Houston County Board that the only workable plan is to raise awareness. In order to combat these problems a Homeless Response Team was created in the county. The team is tasked through Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to have a response to homeless as part of the Hearth Act. Of course, one the biggest goals is to keep the public aware of the problem of poverty.
People wishing to help out in Houston County are encouraged to donate to their local food shelf. In addition, Family Resources is often in need of simple household supplies. “We need new or gently used household goods, even paper goods, those things not covered by nutrient support.”
Donations could be brought right into the Bluff Country Family Resource Office at 114 Main St. in Hokah.
Those wishing to learn more about the Homeless Response Team may contact Jennifer Slabaugh at the SEMCAC Office at 138 East Main St. in Caledonia.