In Moorhead, a fear of ‘those people’

If a homeless person has an apartment, are they still a homeless person?

If a person isn’t a homeless person, should a neighborhood still be afraid?

These are the questions that aren’t being asked in Moorhead in the unfolding drama surrounding a neighborhood’s attempt to boot out a church-sponsored project to build housing for the chronically homeless.

“It’s not about people who are homeless. It’s about people who have left homelessness and who are getting supportive services,” Jane Alexander, the executive director of Churches United says in the Fargo Forum today.

It’s a message falling on some deaf ears in a city that has become the poster child for NIMBY in Minnesota.

On Monday, citizens opposed to a planned $6.5 million, 41-apartment complex convinced the Moorhead City Council to vote against the proposal in a move that was solely political, given that the Council has no authority over the project.

Yesterday, the Clay County Commission came up short in a vote to halt state funding of the project.

“This vote was basically to take this thing back to the drawing board because we agree with the city that there needs to be more dialogue,” commissioner Kevin Campbell said.

The dialogue so far has at least been honest. The residents don’t want those people living near them. People who have been homeless are poor. Poor people steal. A Fargo cop said as much at Monday’s meeting.

“I’m sure we’ll indicate in our letters that we support having a facility in our area such as this, but we want it to be one that everybody in the community can agree on,” another county commissioner tells the Forum.

That’s not going to happen. Everyone in a community isn’t going to agree, which is why some politicians call themselves leaders. Attitudes don’t change until someone stands up to say they should.

“I must’ve said it a million times, what we’re doing, and they still think it’s a shelter,” Alexander said. “And they still think it’s going to be people that are drinking and using drugs.”

Moorhead isn’t the first city, of course, to be afraid of people. In Woodbury, a few years ago, a neighborhood defeated a proposal for housing for people with Alzheimer’s. “There’s a school near there,” some neighbors said, as if there’s an epidemic of people with Alzheimer’s assaulting school children.

Earlier this year, neighbors in Golden Valley recoiled at the prospect that their children might see people who have a mental illness.

“It’s not a time to be PC. It’s a time to be concerned about the safety of our children, grandchildren, and everyone else,” a woman said. And by “everyone else,” she meant “everyone just like us; not those people.”

Kevin Sample, in a recent letter to the editor, was once a man afraid of those people, he wrote.

In February, I took part in helping my church, Blessed Sacrament in West Fargo, as a volunteer when our church sheltered homeless people during the cold winter. I met a couple there, both in their early 20s, who were going to college and both were working, but they were homeless with a kid on the way. That couple didn’t fit the stereotype of what a homeless person is.

The apartment complex is designed for permanent supportive housing for the homeless like them. Churches United wants to house safe families and individuals like them and not the stereotype of a homeless person.

At some point, we need to be concerned about what our children grow up learning.

Moorhead’s kids are learning that people who have struggled in a destructive economy are those people.

Your move, parents.