Agencies see more homeless in North Dakota

“Completely overwhelmed” is how Darianne Johnson describes the situation for social service agencies in Dickinson, ND., where an influx of workers are looking for jobs in the state’s booming oil industry.

Johnson runs the local domestic violence program and shelter. In the past she sometimes gave homeless families emergency shelter as well. Now she says domestic violence cases are up 65 percent since June, and there’s no room for sheltering anyone but victims of domestic violence.

In the past six to nine months, the shortage of housing in Dickinson has become a crisis, Johnson says.

Some people are homeless and looking for work, but others have jobs and simply can’t find a place to live. New apartments are being built, but Johnson says rents are very high and in many cases landlords require a high credit score to rent.

Local agencies report as many as 60 contacts a week with people who are homeless. One recent contact was a single dad with two teenage sons.They were sleeping in their van. Johnson says she knows of a case of as many as 30 people living a house.

In the past, Johnson says, social service agencies were always able to help people in need. Now she says it’s not possible to help everyone something she finds “extremely frustrating on a daily basis.”

The number of homeless people in North Dakota increased by nearly 20 annually the past couple of years, says North Dakota Coalition of Homeless People Executive Director Michael Carbone.

He expects a similar increase this year. But he says says it’s very difficult to accurately count homeless people in parts of the state where there are no emergency homeless shelters.

“If someone is living in a camper out on the prairie, we’re not likely to count that person,” says Carbone, even though that person might technically be considered homeless.

Still, workers keep coming to North Dakota, lured by the prospects of an economic boom.

Carbone says the housing crisis will get worse before it gets better. New housing developments require financing, planning and infrastructure. And that all takes time.

I’ll have more on this story this afternoon on the MPR News program All Things Considered.

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