Breaking barriers for homeless people in Fargo-Moorhead

A young man leaves a Fargo shelter. (Ann Arbor Miller/ File for MPR News)

Advocates for the homeless in Fargo-Moorhead say they’ll reach across state lines and erase other boundaries with a $200,000 grant to help provide better services for homeless people.

Laurie Baker, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons, expects the Bush Foundation grant, along with funding from United Way, will create a system that’s more efficient and more objective.

“Everybody that’s providing homeless services does the same assessment, and that assessment produces a score. And that score helps determine whose need for those beds is the greatest,” Baker said.

One of the keys to this improved system called Coordinated Assessment, Referral and Evaluation System — or CARES — will be technology.

A shared computer system will collect much more accurate data about homelessness. Baker even anticipates developing a mobile app to help field workers complete an assessment of a homeless person on the street using an iPad or phone.

Baker believes this is the first such project in the country to connect agencies across state lines.

“What’s going to let somebody in Moorhead share information with somebody in Fargo? This idea of sharing information across state boundaries, it just doesn’t happen.”

Local homeless advocates have been talking about a shared system for the past two or three years.  They’ve already identified the barriers and Baker says the challenge over the next year will be to make the policy and technology changes to bypass those barriers.

Baker said there’s a commitment from federal and state agencies, cities, counties and non-governmental organizations to make the collaboration happen.  “A lot of people are watching us with great excitement,” Baker said.

The collaboration will happen in stages starting this winter, and will be completed in a year.