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Our Opinion: Loss of New Pathways is a blow to the community

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It was disheartening to hear earlier this month that New Pathways would not be returning to Brainerd.

The only organization providing shelter services for homeless families in the Brainerd lakes area, New Pathways suspended operations this spring after it moved from its leased space at Halvorson-Taylor Funeral and Cremation Care on South Eighth Street.

After an attempt to meet with stakeholders for a needs assessment failed due to an apparent lack of interest, the board of directors decided not to bring the day center for homeless parents and children back to Brainerd, the Dispatch reported Oct. 8.

“... The results of the needs assessment, the financial history of the program, shortage of partnering churches and the recent loss of our rental space have resulted in the Board of Directors to conclude there isn’t the necessary support for our program to continue, therefore making the decision to close our program in Brainerd permanently,” said a letter signed by Board President Mark Radeke.

All of which is sad, because there is certainly a need for such an organization in Brainerd and throughout Minnesota.

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The Brainerd location, operating for more than 20 years, served six counties, although most of the families were from Crow Wing County. According to the board, the organization provided shelter and services to 386 families in need over the course of its work in Brainerd.

Rachel Zetah, community development with Central Minnesota Council on Aging, addressed the lack of homeless shelters in rural Minnesota with Cass County officials at an Oct. 15 county board meeting. She said a survey of homeless Minnesotans showed a 20% increase in the number of homeless ages 25 to 54 between 2015 and 2018 and a 25% rise in the number of homeless people over age 55. Another survey showed the homeless population age 55 and older doubled between 2009 and 2018.

A survey of homeless in Cass County this year identified 33 children, 13 youths and 19 adults. That did not count anyone sleeping on a friend’s couch.

And there are probably more people suffering the same fate than we know.

A recent Minnesota Public Radio story described rural homelessness as an “invisible population.” The diffuse nature of where people experiencing homelessness in rural Minnesota live makes it difficult for researchers and policymakers to understand fully their challenges and how to help.

These people are not the stereotype of homeless people living in alleys or under bridges, panhandling for money or food. In reality, these people are simply struggling to make ends meet, to afford decent housing and a more stable life. They could be living out of their vehicles or on the couches of relatives or friends. In truth, homelessness is a national tragedy, and people affected by it deserve the resources to better their situation.

If New Pathways cannot be reborn in Brainerd, we certainly hope someone or some group can step in to fill the void. We are a wealthy and generous society. We have the ability and resources to help someone, without the means on their own, to get back on their feet and on a path to a better life.

Related Topics: HOMELESSNESS
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