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More faith communities opening doors to homeless in east metro

Responding to increasing need, a program that recruits churches, schools and synagogues to provide temporary overnight shelter for east metro families has added a third site, buoyed by new funding from the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.

Now more faith communities will open their doors and lay out the mattresses for as many as 60 adults and children a night during these high-usage months through December, according to Sara Liegl, program director of Project Home.

County Commissioners last week allocated $54,000 to Project Home for the expansion.

More than two-thirds, that is 70 percent, of the families in need are African American, with 25 percent Caucasian and 5 percent of other backgrounds, Liegl said, with the "vast majority" residents of St. Paul and other cities in Ramsey County.

This is the second year in a row that Project Home, a program of the St. Paul Area Council of Churches, has increased the number of beds it provides from 40 to 60 a night. The program provides overflow accommodations when the Ramsey County Family Service Center in Maplewood is full. Last year federal money paid for extra beds.

 
Homeless numbers rising
This time of year homeless numbers rise as people move into Minnesota for the warm months, or apartment leases come due and families can't afford increased rents, Liegl said. And numbers of homeless are increasing.

The rise is reflected in details released in July [PDF] by Wilder Research about homeless families from an October 2009 count:

* The number of homeless children with their parents, now about one-third of the homeless population, increased from 2,726 to 3,251 since the last study. (That was in 2006.)

* "The number of homeless families increased slightly from 1,413 in 2006 to 1,445 in 2009.

"We serve, hopefully, as a safety net,'' said Liegl. Only, the last Thursday in July, before the influx of dollars, seven women, two fathers and 38 children had to be turned away from shelter. Last year, Liegl said, shelter beds were slept in a record 14,018 times, a 41 percent increase in family shelter usage in three years, according to the group's website.

Project Home provides "shelter in a box,'' Liegl said, explaining how the organization moves mattresses, sheets, pillows, food, books, craft supplies and other basic necessities from location to location to supply the needs of families temporarily homeless. Now, 74 faith-based communities provide sites for sleeping space and the volunteers to host families.

"I always tell volunteers. They were your neighbor and they're going to be your neighbor again,'' Liegl said about her training for the volunteers who host families for the night. Evenings, volunteers offer juice and healthy snacks, a friendly game of Clue or basketball and ready smiles or a listening ear to children and their parents or guardians. I know, as I've helped with the program.

Mornings, volunteers rise early to make the people they're encouraged to think of as their "guests" breakfast before sending children off to school and adults off to jobs or to The Family Place to deal with housing and employment issues.

Program funding includes public and private dollars.

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